Commissioners uphold VHR petition insufficiency

VHR petition organizer Jeanne Shizuru observes verification from the hallway in the Douglas County Courthouse on Jan. 22 in this photo sent by effort spokeswoman Cynthia Mohiuddin.

VHR petition organizer Jeanne Shizuru observes verification from the hallway in the Douglas County Courthouse on Jan. 22 in this photo sent by effort spokeswoman Cynthia Mohiuddin.

Douglas County commissioners voted Feb. 15 to uphold the insufficiency of a petition to ban vacation home rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Commissioners Wes Rice, Sharla Hales and Mark Gardner voted in favor of the certificate issued by Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgans last week. Commissioner Danny Tarkanian voted against the measure and Walt Nowosad abstained.

Both Tarkanian and Nowosad acknowleged they signed the petition.

The petition seeks to ban vacation home rentals from all residential neighborhoods in Douglas County. Presently, vacation rentals are only legal in Tahoe Township. They are prohibited in East Fork Township, which includes Carson Valley and Topaz Ranch Estates.

Under the petition, rentals would be permitted in areas zoned mixed use and neighborhood commercial across the county. That includes one site at Tahoe and up to 160 in East Fork, according to the Vacation

Petitioners said they are considering their options after the vote.

"We are obviously disappointed that Commissioners Rice, Gardner and Hales are willing to disenfranchise over 4,800 of their constituents and not place our initiative on the ballot," said spokeswoman Cynthia Mohiuddin. "It is clear from yesterday's meeting that hundreds of Douglas County voters who signed our petition did not have their signature counted."

At issue for many of the signatures was modifications allegedly made by petitioners to people’s addresses after they’d signed.

“It is unfortunate that the petition committee is not happy with my office doing our job by following the law,” Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgans told county commissioners. “No one on my staff wanted a certain outcome. Our intent was to follow the law, which is what we did. The petition never left the election room from the time until the verification process was done.”

Burgans said that multiple petition packets were not correctly notarized, a requirement under state law.

“It is unfortunate that these packets of 120 signatures were not able to be included as I’m sure the desire of those signers of those packets was that they be included in the final count,” Burgans said. “The law is very clear that packets must be notarized and it’s unfortunate it was not done correctly.”

According to the Clerk’s office the group brought petitions with 4,852 signatures. Of those, one person removed their signature, and 574 signatures were disqualified, bringing the total count to 4,277, 112 signatures of the required number.

Even if county commissioners had upheld the petition, it’s possible opponents could have used the issue to challenge it’s validity in court.

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Petitioners are seeking to overturn the insufficiency of a petition to ban vacation home rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Douglas County commissioners are scheduled to discuss a request for review of the certificate at their Thursday meeting.

County commissioners could overturn Clerk-Treasurer Amy Burgan’s certificate, causing the petition to come before commissioners for adoption or placement on the general election ballot.

When petitioners filed to start their signature gathering on Aug. 17, 2023, they had 180 days to turn that in for verification. The petition was submitted to the Clerk’s Office for verification on Jan. 17, a month ahead of deadline with 4,852 signatures on 109 documents of 21 pages apiece, according to the county.

Under Nevada law the Clerk had 20 days to verify the petition, which was required to be done on Feb. 6, which coincided with the presidential preference primary.

Early on, petitioners said they weren’t allowed inside the chambers to witness where the petition was being verified but given a chair in the hallway to monitor the process.

“We went into the initiative review process knowing that we had sufficient signatures to proceed to get the initiative on the ballot, based upon our carefully reviewed audits,” petitioner spokeswoman Cynthia Mohiuddin said. “We came away from the experience of observing the signature review process by Amy Burgans’ office concerned that she was trying to find any method to disqualify what our audit had determined were valid signors.”

Mohiuddin sent photos of organizer Jeanne Shizuru sitting in the hall on Jan. 22.

In their request for review, petitioners accused Burgans of taking verification materials home.

In her response to the request for review, Deputy District Attorney Cynthea Gegory said that the petition never left the election room.

At issue there, according to the county, was that mailed ballots were also being processed in the chambers.

“Ensuring security of the election room was paramount,” Gregory said. “State law requires only that one person be allowed to witness verification. The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that prior to the beginning of the verification, Douglas County’s live video stream complied with state law. There was also an area in the Election Room doorway allowing for both visual and audio access by a committee member.”

Gregory said the clerks found that someone had written in second addresses inside the signatories’ numbered space boxes.

“These added second addressees or additions-corrections when visually inspected were obviously different from the handwriting style of the actual signatory,” Gregory said. “However, the handwriting was consistently similar throughout the documents where second addresses or additions-corrections were made. It is unknown who or when the second addresses and additions-corrections were placed on the petition documents.”

Gregory pointed out that the committee refers to a self-audit conducted by petitioners in their request for review.

Petitioners say many of the addresses were not incorrect but had minor issues dealing with correct streets and numbers, or were abbreviated in some way.

“A subjectiveness occurred by the Douglas County Clerk concerning how they would interpret the signors’ cursive handwritten spelling, which should not alone have been a disqualification when the remaining identification factors were consistent to verify the signors,” petitioners said in their request.

Should commissioners uphold Burgan’s certification, the committee could seek judicial review of the decision.

This is the second time Shizuru, who is married to former Douglas County Commissioner and current Planning Commissioner Dave Nelson, has had a petition ruled insufficient. Unlike the Park 2500 petition, the vacation home rental ordinance is definitely legislative and can be revised by petition.

Should rejection of the petition be upheld, petitioners could refile for a new petition and start gathering signatures. However, if that effort requires more than four months, it might not make the November ballot.


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