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Council accused by public of conflict

To a casual observer, it would probably seem that an issue involving setting lease rates for general aviation hangars at a city-owned airport would be dry and of little interest to the average person on the street.

But in Boulder City, it has been a contentious issue for several years and this week was the impetus for a number of residents to accuse members of the city council of a conflict of interest at worst and a lack of transparency at best.

In the Aug. 22 meeting of the city council, the public comment period featured nearly a dozen residents, most who had submitted their comments in writing, all pointing out the fact that four out of the five current members of the council received substantial donations to their election campaigns from individuals and entities associated with hangars at the city-owned airport.

At least one resident called out certain council members by name. Pat Murphy addressed the council and noted that at the proposed rate of 55 cents per square foot annually, the total came to a bit over $600 per year.

“That wouldn’t cover three months of my little storage unit,” she said.

“I was surprised,” she continued, “That all of council members did not mention ways in which they have benefited monetarily from involvement with the airport. Cokie, your campaign reports say that you received $8,000, a third of all of your campaign donations came from the political action committee Save the Boulder City Airport. I’m not saying this influences your votes or discussion but it sure seems like something you should disclose so people know about it.”

Prior to this week’s council meeting, members of the public approached the Boulder City Review with information about campaign donations made to members of the city council, all of whom were elected in the past two years. The information was taken from a combination of a publicly-available website maintained by the State of Nevada which tracks all donations made to political campaigns, which was cross-referenced with a list maintained by the airport of hangar tenants as well as pilots registered with the airport.

The Boulder City Review has been able to independently confirm this information.

In their most recent campaigns, in addition to the $8,000 received by Cokie Booth that was referenced in public comment, Mayor Joe Hardy received the same amount from a combination of the Save the Boulder City Airport political action committee and GoodSense Corp, which is owned by Kurt Goodfellow. Goodfellow, along with Matt Ragan, started the aforementioned PAC and are officers. Goodfellow is also a current member of the Airport Advisory Committee, whose term is scheduled to end in 2028.

Councilmember Steve Walton received $1,000 directly from the PAC.

Councilmember Sherri Jorgensen received $2,000 from the PAC and an additional $1,000 from the Goodfellow Corporation, of which Kurt Goodfellow is the president. Additionally, she received a total of $5,800 from individuals associated with the airport. The bulk of that $5,000 came from Steven and Deborah Montgomery. According to airport records, Steven is registered as a pilot at the facility. According to the state database that tracks political donations, the Montgomerys have made similar donations for the same amount in 2018 to the campaign of municipal court judge Victor Miller and in 2019 to the campaign of Rodney Woodbury. Woodbury is a former city council member and mayor of Boulder City and is currently the lawyer representing a group of hangar tenants.

Matt Fox is the only current member of the council who did not receive donations from pilots, the PAC or legal entities associated with Kurt Goodyear.

Reached prior to the meeting, when asked for comment from council members, staff responded only with a reference to Nevada state law regarding donations as well as ethics code which specifically says that campaign donations do not have to be disclosed and are not a reason for a politician to recuse themselves from discussion or voting on any issue even if it is associated with people who have donated to their campaign.

Walton quizzed City Attorney Brittney Walker about the requirements for disclosure and she confirmed that councilmembers are acting within the law.

“Nevada ethics law defines conflicts of interest and it includes things like pecuniary interest or private relationships, familial relationships, substantial continuing business interests. Whether it requires disclosure and abstention depends on who is coming before the body. It depends on what the nature of what the item is that is being voted on. It’s a very fact-intensive analysis on whether there is a conflict of interest, which I help to provide to the city council,” she said explaining that her role is to help advise the council on Nevada ethics law.

“Nevada ethics law specifically excludes campaign contributions from the disclosure requirements,” she said.

In the end, the comments by the public didn’t appear to change any minds. The council voted to direct staff to draft new leases based on the current ground leases at a rate of about 55 cents per square foot annually and to forgo the city’s contractual ability to take possession of the hangars and charge a much higher building rate. Note that a previous version of the council had directed staff in 2020 to exercise the right, called reversion, on some hangars whose leases expired at that time. The city currently owns and leases those hangars at a building rate that is more than eight times the ground lease rate which will be offered to other hangar tenants.

One of the arguments made by some council members in previous meetings, Jorgensen most prominently, for keeping hangar lease rates very low was that the Boulder City Airport is a community airport serving the residents of Boulder City. An examination of the leases most currently at issue shows that, of 25 hangars, only 12 are registered to people or entities with Boulder City addresses. Of those, three are registered to either Kurt Goodfellow or to an LLC called Kay-Gee Stock of which he is an officer. The other leases set to expire in the coming weeks that will now be extended for 10 years with an option for an additional 10 years are registered to people and entities mostly in Las Vegas and Henderson as well as one in White Hills, Arizona and another in Florida.

While the actions of the council would appear to put the issue at rest, it is clear that some members of the community are not satisfied.

“It’s clear from the other comments that were read that the citizens of Boulder City need clarity on what’s going on here,” said Murphy while addressing the council. “There is a perception that you are working with the wealthy airplane owners rather than with the rest of the city. And if you want there to be a different perception, you’re gonna have to work for it.”

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