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Pandemic, city leader firings among top stories of 2020

This past year in Boulder City has been like no other.

Two of the city’s top leaders were fired. Residents faced, and are still facing, a worldwide pandemic that infected hundreds of people in town and thousands in the Las Vegas Valley. The first female athlete from Boulder City earned a spot to compete in the 2020 Olympics. The city discovered a man had been living in a mine for years in an undeveloped part of town. Vice President Michael Pence visited during the 2020 presidential campaign. A new water recreation trail was designated at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Boulder Creek Golf Club was selected to hold several of the National Collegiate Athletic Association golf championships in the state.

With the new year starting Friday, here are some of the biggest stories of 2020.

City leaders fired

On Oct. 13, City Council fired Steve Morris from his position as city attorney and Al Noyola from his position as city manager.

Councilwoman Tracy Folda had requested the items be put on the agenda.

Regarding the city manager, she said she wanted to address his “professional competence” in his “work duties.” She said she believed he had used his position in 2019 to deter a council member from placing an item on the agenda about his contract and had misused his emergency powers during the pandemic to implement fuel delivery, transport and storage standards at the Boulder City Municipal Airport.

For Morris, she said she had lost “confidence” in him as city attorney. She said she believed he had not kept the “council apprised of threatening open meeting reports against the city” and that she believed some of his advice had been “misleading and self-beneficial.”

Councilwoman Judy Hoskins said her experience with Noyola had caused her to question his professionalism. She also said his actions were “unacceptable” and she had concerns about his use of emergency powers at the airport.

Councilwoman Claudia Bridges issued the only votes against firing Morris and Noyola. She said they had been professional with in her dealings with them.

The firings came after several attempts to remove them from their positions. The first attempt was scheduled for Aug. 6. Shortly after the agenda for the special meeting was posted, Morris and Noyola filed a complaint in Nevada’s Eighth District Court alleging the meeting to discuss terminating their employment contracts was because they substantiated allegations against Mayor Kiernan McManus, who has been accused by city employees of “religious discrimination, harassment, bullying and creating a hostile work environment.”

On Aug. 25, they filed an amended complaint accusing the mayor and City Council of several open meeting law violations, which have since been dismissed.

On Nov. 18, Morris and Noyola filed a second amended complaint claiming that their firings violated state law that requires anytime “an employer discharges an employee, the wages and compensation earned and unpaid” be paid immediately. Both say they have yet to be paid the severance packages they are entitled to that were outlined in their contracts.

They also claim their contracts were violated because they were fired within six months of a City Council election. Both contain a clause saying they cannot be fired six months before or after a City Council election. A judge has yet to rule these claims.

COVID-19 pandemic hits

In March, Boulder City’s leadership declared a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings were canceled and buildings were shut down.

Even though the state of emergency ended, the city, local businesses and schools had to change how they operate. The city has had to prohibit and limit in-person attendance to council and commission meetings. All are streamed live online and accept call-in and emailed public comments.

All of the usual annual events were canceled including the Damboree, Christmas tree lighting and parade, Doodlebug Craft Bazaar, Art in the Park and Spring Jamboree.

The public schools in town have switched to distance learning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and their sports seasons have been affected. The fall sports season was postponed to 2021 and the winter one was canceled.

The pandemic also caused Oaklane Preschool Academy to close in March. The school opened in 1976 and was Boulder City’s first preschool.

“As we have all observed, in recent weeks the coronavirus outbreak has brought uncertainty and challenges to our families and businesses throughout Southern Nevada and around the world. Acknowledging that reality, and with much sadness, I have made the difficult decision to close Oaklane Preschool Academy …,” wrote owner Carole Gordon in a letter to parents.

Restaurants and retail businesses have also adjusted operations and become proficient in to-go orders and curbside service. They also have had to operate at lower capacity levels, which forced some eateries to temporarily close.

Vice president visits

Boulder City had a place in the 2020 national presidential campaign as Vice President Mike Pence stopped by for a visit Oct. 8.

The rally was held at Boulder City Municipal Airport, and only 250 people were able to attend because of social distancing restrictions due to the pandemic. During his presentation, he asked Boulder City for four more years in the White House and promised to uphold law and order and further expand the country’s economy.

Boulder City resident Zach Inman said he came to the event to support President Donald Trump and hear about what they are going to do if re-elected. He said he was most interested in hearing about the economy.

Shooter qualifies for Olympics

In February, Alexis “Lexi” Lagan earned a spot on the U.S. Shooting Team, becoming the first female athlete from Boulder City to compete in the Olympics.

She will be competing in women’s sport pistol.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” Lagan said.

She will be joined on the U.S. Shooting pistol team by Sandra Uptagrafft of Phenix City, Alabama, who competed in the 2012 Olympics and was 34 points behind Lagan.

In March, the Olympics were postponed because of the pandemic, but Lagan said she still had her spot on the team and was training.

“I have been assured by USA Shooting that my place is protected as far as they are concerned, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the United States Olympic Committee,” Lagan said. “If it comes to that, I feel confident in my skills if I am required to requalify.”

She also said she thinks the postponement will ultimately be a good thing because it gives her more time to train and travel even though the situation is “difficult and frustrating.”

“I think in the long run this is going to be better for me,” she said.

Mine shaft residence

In January, Richard Roman was given a 30-day notice to leave an abandoned mine shaft in an undeveloped part of town where he had been living for seven years.

Boulder City Police Sgt. Craig Tomao and officer Guy Leidkie went to the mine shaft and gave official notice to Roman that he needed to leave the area, according to an email sent to the mayor and City Council members by then City Manager Al Noyola.

Members of Help for Southern Nevada were also part of that visit.

“HELP conferred with Mr. Roman and took him to several apartments where he qualifies for housing assistance,” Noyola wrote in the email. “Mr. Roman understood the health and safety concerns, and confirmed that he will be leaving the site within 30 days. I appreciate the expediency and empathy shown by the officers and HELP of Southern Nevada to help address this issue.”

Roman said he had packed up his belongings and moved out Jan. 17. He also said he would be staying with a friend until he moved into a rental unit in Las Vegas in March.

After he moved out, the city closed the shaft permanently.

City takes ownership of hangars

In July, Boulder City took ownership of 28 airport hangars after a District Court judge denied a motion and canceled a restraining order prohibiting it from doing so.

Each of the owners had a 30-year land lease with the city that expired July 2. The agreements included a clause stating the hangars would revert to city ownership when they expired. City Council agreed to let the leases expire and have staff draft new ones as well as to seek appraisals for the property.

Judge Nancy Allf denied a request for an injunction that would have prevented the city, City Attorney Steve Morris and City Manager Al Noyola from terminating ground leases at the airport, taking control of the 28 hangars and exercising the leases’ reversion clause.

Championships come to town

Boulder Creek Golf Club has found a place in Clark County history as it was selected to hold three National Collegiate Athletic Association golf championships.

In October, Boulder Creek was selected to host the Division III men’s national golf championship in 2024, the Division II women’s national golf championship in 2025 and the Division II men’s 2026 national championship.

“I’m really excited about it. … It’s a great opportunity for us,” said Andy Schaper, Boulder City’s director of golf operations. “I’m excited about the exposure for our course. I think it’s great for the city.”

These national championships will be the first in the area. All were banned in Nevada until a Supreme Court decision in 2019 allowed nationwide sports betting. That year, the NCAA also changed its policy and agreed to allow these types of tournaments in Las Vegas and Clark County.

When that happened, Schaper said the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reached out to him to see if he was interested in applying to host some golf tournaments between 2023 and 2026. He said he was and they helped him complete the bid application and submit it in February.

“Boulder Creek is so well-known in golf,” said Lisa Motley, LVCVA director of sports marketing. “Three events being awarded to one venue is almost unheard of.”

For each of the tournaments, there will be several hundred golfWers competing, as well as coaches, spectators, school representatives, employees and volunteers in attendance.

New water trail designated

Boulder City locals and visitors were given another reason to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area with a newly designated water trail providing more access to the Nevada and Arizona shorelines of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River.

Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced the designation Oct. 22 at the park. It is part of 1,300 miles of national recreational trails in 25 states added to the National Trails System.

“The Mohave National Water Trail begins where the Black Canyon Water Trail ends, providing water recreational opportunities … along the Colorado River,” he said.

According to the Department of the Interior, the water trail gives people more access to beaches, scenic desert areas and unique historic sites, including submerged cultural resources.

The 76-mile trail begins at Eldorado Canyon, 13 miles south of Willow Beach, and continues south to the Laughlin bridge below Davis Dam.

The trail designation was made possible through the commitment of the Lower Colorado River Water Trail Alliance, which also was instrumental in getting the Black Canyon Water Trail established.

Streets project ‘complete’

Boulder City Parkway’s multimillion dollar renovation was completed in the summer.

The $18.2 million complete street project made the highway and sidewalks from Buchanan Boulevard to Veterans Memorial Drive safer and more aesthetically pleasing. Upgrades were also done to the asphalt, sewer main and water systems, including installing new fire hydrants and an irrigation system.

“Boulder City is a small town, but with an estimated 9 million visitors to Lake Mead a year, we are definitely a busy attraction,” said Public Works Director Keegan Littrell. “Making our main road into town more pleasing to the eye should encourage visitors to make a stop by one of our amazing businesses to shop, eat and enjoy our great city.”

The project was a partnership between Boulder City, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and Nevada Department of Transportation.

Boulder City was responsible for $626,380 of the project’s cost, which covered the removal and replacement of an old section of the sewer main, replacing water services and installing amenities like bike racks, benches and trash cans. RTC and NDOT paid for the rest of the project.

“We would not have been able to do this project without the support of RTC and NDOT,” said Mayor Kiernan McManus. “We greatly appreciate their investment in this truly regional artery as this project will make the entry of our community inviting and welcoming to people from around the world.”

Littrell also thanked local businesses for their support during the past year.

“They were great to work with,” he said. “We appreciate their patience and their cooperation.”

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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