WEST WENDOVER, Nev. — A councilwoman here is launching a campaign to legalize prostitution in this city just over the Utah border.

Lacking the support of the city's four other council members, Lore Cook is asking voters whether they want to change a city ordinance to allow prostitution — legal under Nevada law unless local governments ban it.

The earliest the issue could be on a regular election ballot is next year. But Cook is exploring the possibility of a special election to get the measure on the ballot sooner.

Cook began looking into the issue after fielding requests by people looking into establishing two separate brothels.

The proposal has not been well-received. Nearly 100 people last week made it clear in a public hearing they want to keep brothels out of this city of almost 5,000. The nearest bordellos are 50 miles away in Wells and more than 100 miles away in Elko or Carlin.

City Manager Keyth Durham said West Wendover's city code prohibits prostitution and that few want to change the law. "That's the bottom line at this point," said Durham, who described his city as a "family community."

West Wendover's casinos are legal and obvious to patrons — but prostitution, if it exists in this border town, has remained an underground industry.

"If it's there, it's very quiet," said Lori Stappenbeck, a clerk in the city's justice court. "We've always heard it's been here — it's nothing personally I've ever seen." In her two years as a clerk and in five years before that as a secretary for the police department, she says she has not seen one case of prostitution. Neither has Sylvia Medina in her two years as a municipal court clerk, nor Georgina LaCombe in her 19 years as a judge in West Wendover.

Cook, who runs a shop that sells a small amount of adult magazines and videos, says prostitution does indeed exist in West Wendover.

"It's here," she told the Deseret News. "Just because they're not waving banners doesn't mean it's not here. We don't see people going in and out of (methamphetamine) houses with banners, yet they exist."

Cook said each week she refers three or four customers, most of whom she said are from the Wasatch Front, to brothels in Wells.

Legalizing brothels would at least address certain health issues, she said, by requiring prostitutes to get regular checkups. The city would gain revenue from special permits required of brothels. "Why shouldn't the city capitalize on that and improve on health and safety?" Cook asked.

Other than a special election, the only other inroad for lawful houses of prostitution would be a City Council vote to change the city's code. But no one else on the five-member council appears to back brothels. A motion that would have kept the subject alive on future council agendas did not receive a second.

Councilman Joel Murphy said the city is making strides toward becoming a community of "family values" and that the casinos would suffer in a city that is home to bordellos.

"Why would we want to defame those casinos by being called a brothel town?" asked Murphy, a security supervisor in a casino. "We want to be a resort town; we don't want to resort to being a brothel town."

Murphy believes, contrary to advocates' statements, that brothels do not bring down incidences of rape and sexually transmitted diseases — nor that they make money for the state.

Legalizing brothels is not too popular with the neighbors to the east, either.

Wendover, Utah, population 1,537, is just down the road along the main strip, Wendover Boulevard.

"The bottom line is, I'm against it and our council's against it," Mayor Steve Perry said.

E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com