Disillusionment leads newcomers to challenge Henderson council incumbents 

By: - May 23, 2024 5:24 am
where the magic happens

Challengers are hoping to break the hold of development-backed members of the Henderson City Council. (Photo: City of Henderson)

In the City of Henderson, three is a magic number. That’s how many votes it takes to prevail before the five member City Council where four members – Mayor Michelle Romero, longtime council members Dan Stewart and Dan Shaw, and new member Jim Seebock – often vote in lock step. Councilwoman Carrie Cox is the odd woman out. 

“If you look at the campaign contribution and expense reports of the three up for election, the contributions are identical. It’s over 95% from big developers,” says Dr. Monica Larson, who recently moved to Inspirada from Pasadena, and is challenging Shaw in Ward 2  “So that’s my concern is where their allegiance lies.”

Challenges to incumbents are rare in Henderson, but Larson and a handful of others are hoping to break the hold by ousting Seebock, Shaw, and Stewart in the general election, if not the primary. The council races are non-partisan. 

Henderson City Council, from left: Dan Shaw, Dan Stewart, Mayor Michelle Romero, Jim Seebock, Carrie Cox. (Photo: Dana Gentry/Nevada Current)

Ward One

“Split government is a really good thing,” says Jason Porter, one of two candidates challenging Seebock in Ward 1. “It’s a really good thing to have dialogue. Any single mindset as the only mindset being represented is a problem.”

In Henderson, Porter says, that mindset is growth at all costs, even though the infrastructure to support it is non-existent. 

“There is a ‘pay for play’ theme in Henderson and that’s why they’ve never found a development project they don’t love,” he said during a recent phone interview. “Developers have bought and paid my competitor to the tune of $677,000 for a $60,000 a year job,” Porter said, referring to Seebock’s campaign contributions, including the special election last year that landed him on the council. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Seebock is a former Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer. According to his campaign contribution and expense reports, he raised $378,000 last year, $91,000 in the first quarter, and had $400,000 in the bank as of April 15. 

Seebock is awaiting resolution of a state ethics complaint alleging he used the trappings of his position as an assistant sheriff at Metro in his campaign for city council. 

Another candidate in the race, Rick Whittaker, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Porter says he hopes to emphasize quality of life for residents over new development. 

He and his wife moved to Henderson six years ago. “In our time being here, we’ve just seen a change,” he says, adding he’s running for office “because I am very concerned about the overdevelopment of Henderson. I’m running to try to slow that down. It’s not that I’m anti-growth. I think we’re approving development too fast for our infrastructure to be able to handle things.”

Porter says he’s heard different takes on the valley’s water problem, but notes a neighbor was fined $300 for allowing water to seep onto his sidewalk. “If water is a problem for him, how is it not a problem elsewhere? Whether water is a problem or not, growth is a problem.”

He points to the planned remediation of contaminated land at Three Kids Mine, a former open-pit manganese mine that operated from 1917 to 1961. Pulte Homes plans to build 3,000 homes after the remediation, estimated to cost $250 million. The original development agreement called for then-owner Bob Unger to foot the bill for the clean-up. 

Instead, Pulte is providing $31 million in financial assurance for the remediation and the city council agreed to provide $250 million plus interest in tax incentive financing – a scheme that leaves Henderson taxpayers subsidizing each home to the tune of $100,000, according to Bob Understein, a member of the original development group. That’s more than seven times the amount of tax incentive financing provided to the developer of Cadence, which is also built on remediated land. 

“If I had been on the council, I would have had real problems with privately cleaning up a site that the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t do,” Porter says. “I would not have supported that. It doesn’t make sense mathematically to have a developer spend under $40 million, and as a city, commit incentives back to them of $250 million over 30 years.”

He adds the city doesn’t “have enough police officers to keep our city safe,” noting Henderson has less than one officer per 1,000 residents when it should have more than two. He points to recent news that Henderson is the second most dangerous city in Nevada, behind Winnemucca. Las Vegas is sixth. 

“I want to put the onus on the developers who want to make money off of our population and our lands” to provide public safety infrastructure. “And I just don’t see that.” 

Porter invests in tax deeds and tax liens with the goal, he says, of keeping people in their homes.

“I figured out solutions to provide people with safe, clean, affordable housing, and I fight to keep them in their home,” he says. “I fight against gentrification.” 

He acknowledges the city needs affordable housing, but even more he says, “we need a pathway to ownership for anyone who seeks to do that. Homeownership is the way out of poverty for people. The American dream is not to rent.”   

He doesn’t favor rent control. “I’m a free market guy.” But he thinks barriers to affordable rentals, such as charging applicants fees for multiple rental applications, should be removed. “It’s ludicrous that application fees can be as profitable as actually renting the property itself. It’s egregious, and to me that’s predatory.”

He says inadequately funded projects such as Henderson’s animal shelter can be properly funded “if we quit buying $32 million casinos to tear down or we don’t spend $140 million reimagining Boulder Highway. We just have to be smarter with allocation of capital, it needs to go to the things that bring us a quality of life.” 

He favors reliance on property taxes and is interested in proposals to tweak Nevada’s cap of 3% on annual growth, but wants to learn more. “Any place that I have seen that forces the reduction of property tax to be something other than based on the actual assessed value of the property eventually has problems.”  

Porter says his “primary goal is to bring ethics and honesty” to the city council, where he says “ethics have been forgotten and honesty is malleable to some, and I have a problem with that.” 

The council recently approved a ‘governance policy’ that requires members to gain approval from the city before speaking about issues of concern. 

“The first thing I’ll do when I win is change that governance policy. Look, we’re a city and we’re electing a representative and if that representative has to have somebody go through a filter to get to them, then there’s a problem,” he says of the gag order. 

The second thing he’ll do, if elected, is pass an ordinance prohibiting “any council person from having a consulting company that provides any consulting services to any company of any type operating in Henderson.”

Romero and Seebock have consulting companies. Romero has represented parties who appear before the council. 

Ward Two

“I’m optimistic for this election,” says Larson, a clinical forensic psychologist from Pasadena who says her family moved here less than two years ago for a better quality of life. “I really do think people are ready for change, and they want accountability.” 

Larson alleges Shaw lives in Utah, where he has property, and travels to Henderson twice a month for council meetings.  

“You have to live in your community that you represent and care about it,” she says, adding her concerns about public safety in her neighborhood, which she brought before the council, drew no response from Shaw, who she says becomes animated only when developers appear before the council. 

Shaw, who was appointed to the council in 2017, declined to be interviewed. He raised more than $300,000 in 2023, another $63,000 in the first quarter, and had $266,000 on hand as of April 15. He takes pride in having increased Henderson’s general fund without raising taxes, according to his website.

Larson says Henderson touts itself on its website as the second safest city in the nation.

“That was really appealing to me. We quickly found out it was not true.”

After a rash of crime in her neighborhood, Larson mobilized her neighbors and began a patrol program that has almost eliminated crime. But she’d like to rely on the police. 

“We are critically low on officers,” she says, adding Henderson police are the lowest paid in the valley.

Larson says she wants city funds to be spent fairly and equitably, instead of for the benefit of council members. 

“You’d think that they would put their money where their mouth is and invest and vote in favor of our law enforcement and first responders,” she says, noting the city’s fire chief had to come to a city council meeting “literally begging for funds” for new equipment and facilities. 

Shaw, along with his Henderson business partner, recently settled lawsuits for making and collecting unlawful loans in Illinois and Indiana.

Larson says it’s “infuriating and despicable” that an elected official would take advantage of low-income individuals. “How can you ethically and with integrity represent your constituents?” 

Larson says she’s shocked by the price of housing, which she says rivals California. While she recognizes the need for affordable and low-income housing, she says neighbors in Seven Hills and Inspirada are opposed to the proliferation of multi-family developments, and notes the city  lacks the public safety infrastructure to support it. 

She says she’d support requiring developers to include workforce or affordable housing in their projects, or pay a fee to the city to be used for construction. 

“Everyone deserves to have quality and sustainable housing, but I’ve seen that the council is not interested. Everything seems to focus on the benefit and incentives for the developers, never for the residents,” she says. “There has to be a balance because a lot of people want the American dream of home ownership.”

Larson, who touts herself as a “quality of life candidate” on her website, says she’s interested in removing barriers to affordable housing, including rentals. She notes a relative was gouged by property managers over application fees. “They had to pay for each family member in the home.” 

Like Porter, she’s concerned about the development slated for the land at Three Kids Mine. 

“All it takes is three councilmen, the incumbents who vote in favor of these things, and this is one of them,” she says, adding the council is sacrificing the “health of safety of the community to focus on big business and special interests.”

“I want things to be transparent,” she says, in reference to the city’s gag order on city council members. “I’m opposed to that, and I know it was strategic, and it’s against our First Amendment rights. You should be able to speak and be held accountable. If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you implement something like that?” 

Larson says a recent trip to Henderson’s understaffed and over-populated animal shelter “was truly upsetting. I saw one volunteer. They need a better facility, staff and volunteers to better care for the animals.”

She says she’d support an effort to legalize the practice of trapping, neutering and releasing stray and feral cats, which has long been prohibited in city limits. “They can’t fend for themselves. There’s no harm to feeding a cat who’s hungry, or giving it shelter.”

Larson is endorsed by the Fraternity of Police, Stagehands union, Teamsters, and the Armed Forces Chamber, a veterans organization. 

Another candidate in the race, Bristol Marunde, did not respond to requests for an interview. 

Marunde, according to his website, is a mixed martial arts fighter and appeared in a now-defunct television series about flipping homes in Las Vegas. He raised close to $26,000 in 2023 and another $42,000 in the first quarter. He had $48,000 on hand as of April 15. 

Ward Four

Ward Four

Councilman Dan Stewart is a fourth-generation Nevadan, according to his website.

He declined to be interviewed for this story. 

Stewart has served on the State Ethics Commission, the Colorado River Commission, and the City of Henderson Planning Commission. 

He was once at the helm of Landwell, the company that turned a toxic waste site into the master planned community Cadence. 

Stewart is endorsed by the Henderson Chamber Political Action Committee, the International Association of Firefighters, and the Southern Nevada Building Trades, among others. 

He raised $492,000 in campaign contributions last year, another $35,000 in the first quarter of this year, and has $378,000 in the bank. 

Stewart is being challenged by Cherlyn Arrington, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 and 2018 for State Assembly District 21 and in 2022 for State Senate District 12.  

She confirms she was among the founding member of the Nevada Oath Keepers, 

“The Nevada Oath Keepers had nothing to do with what happened on January 6. To affiliate me with those type of people was wrong. It was a lie put out by the Democratic Party so people would go against me,” she says. “The original Nevada Oath Keepers had to do with law enforcement, our Constitution, and standing up for what’s right.”

The Oath Keepers originated in Nevada, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 

When asked whether she believes Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Arrington replied “He’s our president.” She says she doesn’t know who she’s going to vote for in November. 

“I believe that President Trump should learn how to be more cognizant of what comes out of his mouth. And how he tweets,” Arrington said. “I think he ran our country amazingly. We were great. We were prosperous at the time. And other leaders showed us respect. They don’t now. Look at our economy. Look at the crime rate.”

The violent crime rate has been on the decline in Nevada in recent years, however property crimes are increasing, according to state statistics

She’s endorsed this election by the Henderson Police Officers Association and the Henderson Police Supervisors Association, according to her website. She has raised close to $26,000 and has about $18,000 remaining. 

“I’m running because our law enforcement officers need someone to stand up for them and not tell them one thing behind closed doors and stab them in the back once they get to the chamber floors,” she said, noting the disparity in Henderson police pay with other jurisdictions. 

The average salary for a Henderson officer is $56,000 a year compared with $66,000 for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, according to estimates from Zip Recruiter. 

I’ve spoken to voters who said they would be in favor of a small tax increase, just like the fire department is requesting right now,” says Arrington, adding she’d support higher taxes for police and fire services. 

In November, Henderson voters will be asked to approve a ballot measure increasing the property tax by .06 cents per $100 assessed value to fund fire services. 

Arrington disagrees with the Henderson Council’s decision to subsidize Pulte Homes’ remediation of toxic land at Three Kids Mine. 

“I think that money would have been better spent somewhere,” she says, adding the city should have fenced it off and walked away. 

She considers many Henderson projects to be a wasteful use of resources.. 

“They are allowing builders to build when our water resources are not there. Law enforcement is not there. Education is not there.”

Arrington says she’s undecided on the issue of rent control. She also says there’s enough  low-income housing available via Section 8 subsidies.

A 2021 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated Nevadans wait an average of 38 months to receive housing vouchers.

Early voting begins Saturday. Primary election day is June 11.

This story was updated with information from Cherlyn Arrington. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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