The Reno City Council can be a good launching pad to the mayor’s office—if it’s legal.
The Reno City Council can be a good launching pad to the mayor’s office—if it’s legal.

Recently, a question has come up in discussions among journalists, politicians and other sorts of wags around Reno. The mayor and city councilmembers are both term limited. The duties of the mayor are very similar to the duties of councilmembers. So can a term-limited councilmember run for essentially the same job, just because it’s called something else?

It seemed every proponent of each side of the issue was as certain of their correctness as the other, but the question has never been firmly answered because it has never come up in Reno before, and each city must have its city charter examined individually.

Even Frankie Sue Del Papa, who was Nevada attorney general when term limits were written into law in 1996, was uncertain, saying in an informal conversation that some arguments may be based on an unrelated attorney general’s opinion, and that AG opinions don’t have the strength of law, anyway. She suggested the question be posed to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, since that office handles elections.

In the end, that office declined to comment, calling the question “hypothetical,” even though two other hypothetical questions were answered. There are two possible reasons for this reticence, though: The question is too politically hot for the Secretary of State’s office to stick its neck out to answer, or the Secretary of State’s office would prefer to defer to a decision by city officials.

Whichever the case, though, when the mayor’s office goes to election in 2014, the answer to this question will help decide Reno’s future. This email exchange illustrates the difficulties journalists and bureaucrats have negotiating the political landscape, and a reason the public often goes uninformed. As an aside, this is not intended in any way to suggest Scott Gilles, deputy secretary of state for elections, was an obstacle. Quite to the contrary, he was very responsive, helpful and communicative. A few emails have been abridged or removed for space reasons.

From: D. Brian Burghart

Sent: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 11:02 AM

To: SOS Elections Division

Subject: Re term limits

To Scott Gilles

Deputy Secretary of State for Elections


There’s an issue regarding term limits on the Reno City Council that has elicited some discussion in Reno. Basically, several seated councilmembers have floated their intentions of running for mayor in 2014. However, all the ones I’ve heard this about have been term limited off the Council by 2014. A local attorney called me to question whether they legally could run, saying that mayor and councilmembers have basically the same duties and sit on the same “local governing body.” He referred me to the attached attorney general’s opinion (page 6), “Nevada Attorney General Opinion 96-23,” and to a more recent document regarding term limits for the mayor of Winnemucca:

OK, this [next bit] is from Article 15, Section 3 of the Nevada Constitution: No person may be elected to any state office or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his current term if he is so serving will have served, 12 years or more, unless the permissible number of terms or duration of service is otherwise specified in this constitution.

This [next paragraph] is from the AG’s opinion: Mayors have both executive and legislative duties. Cf. NRS 266.165; 266.190; and 266.200. An examination of the instrument creating each city is necessary before a conclusion can be reached as to whether a mayor would be subject to term limits or not. If the creating instrument indicates the mayor’s main function is to be an administrator for the city, and the mayor does not exercise legislative power as a member of the city council, then the mayor would not be subject to term limits. If, on the other hand, the mayor functions as a member of the city council, a governing body, then term limits would apply to that position as well as to the other members of the city council.

And this [next citation], finally, is from the Reno City Charter.

ARTICLE III – Executive Department

Sec. 3.010 Mayor: Duties; Assistant Mayor.

1. The Mayor:

(a) Shall serve as a member of the City Council and preside over its meetings.

(b) Shall not have any administrative duties.

(c) Must be recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes.

(d) Shall determine the order of business at meetings pursuant to the rules of the City Council.

(e) Is entitled to vote and shall vote last on all roll call votes.

(f) Shall take all proper measures for the preservation of the public peace and order and for the suppression of riots and all forms of public disturbance, for which he or she is authorized to appoint extra police officers temporarily and without regard to Civil Service rules and regulations, and to call upon the Sheriff of Washoe County, or, if that force is inadequate, to call upon the Governor for assistance.

(g) Shall perform such other duties, except administrative duties, as may be prescribed by ordinance or by the provisions of Nevada Revised Statutes which apply to a mayor of a city organized pursuant to the provisions of a special charter.

So, anyway, [the attorney’s] argument is if the mayor is subject to term limits because he’s a member of the council, then term-limited out councilmembers can’t run for mayor because they’re running for a seat on the same local governing body. I’m not a lawyer, but I can see that his argument has at least some merit. All right, sorry for the long-winded introduction, but here are my questions:

1. Is the Reno mayor subject to term limits?

2. Can a term-limited-out member of the Reno City Council run for mayor?

3. Can a term-limited-out member of the Reno City Council move to a different ward and run for that office, or even for the at-large seat without moving?

You are probably wondering why this is important now, with the 2012 election in just a few months. I think it’s important because qualified people may dismiss the idea of running because they think they’ll be running against “incumbent” members of the Council, with all their organizational systems already in place.

Anyway, thanks for your help.

D. Brian Burghart

Editor, Reno News & Review

From: Scott F. Gilles

Sent: Thu, 21 Jun 2012 17:13:02


You pose an interesting question, which I don’t know the answer to off of the top of my head. Initially, I believe the two positions would have enough different and distinct duties to not implicate the term limit rule. However, I will provide you with a formal answer tomorrow. As for questions 1 and 3

1. Mayor is subject to term limits

2.Will get back to you

3. A termed-out city council member may not run in a different ward or for the at large seat.

From: D. Brian Burghart

Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2012 7:24 PM

To: Scott F. Gilles

Thank you, Scott. It’s kind of a quandary, which is why I wrote. If the mayor is a member of the council, and a member of the council can take his duties when circumstances require (vice mayor), and term limits apply because he’s a member of the council, then it seems a 12-year member can’t run for the position. On the other hand, the mayor feels like a role beyond council leader.

I’ll look forward to your answer, and thanks for your time on this.


From: Scott F. Gilles

To: D. Brian Burghart

Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2012 11:52:14

Brian: I do want to look at this a little more in depth before we respond. Maybe not as black and white as I thought. I have some other pressing matters and a short day today so it will likely be Monday or Tuesday when I get back to you with our offices “official” interp on this issue.

Thanks for your patience

From: D. Brian Burghart

Sent: Friday, June 22, 2012 12:06 PM

To: Scott F. Gilles

Thanks, Scott. I totally understand. I’ll look forward to your email, and have a great weekend.


From: D. Brian Burghart

Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 11:46 AM

To: Scott F. Gilles

Hey Scott,

I’m doing the budget for next week’s newspaper, and I was wondering if you might have some information for me. Hope you’re having a good week.



From: Scott F. Gilles

To: D. Brian Burghart

Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2012 11:48:47

Nothing more. Like I mentioned we need to research and analyze this a bit more with our counsel before letting you know our position on the issue. Election, other litigation and preparing ballots taking precedence right now for us and our counsel … will keep this on our radar and will hopefully have something for you soon.

Thanks for your patience.

From: Scott F. Gilles

To: D. Brian Burghart

Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2012 11:46:03


I don’t think we are going to have a position on this for you. No one has had time to look into it and this type of situation is precisely why we don’t respond to hypothetical questions (particularly legal questions).

So officially—we are not going to take a position on this hypothetical scenario.

Apologies for letting this linger … it seemed cut and dry to me at first.

Thanks for your patience.

p.s. Should this actually come up in 2014 … get a hold of me!

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