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Gaming Guru

Molly Ball

Governor Gibbons eyes Guinn picks

4 January 2007

NEVADA -- Gov. Jim Gibbons is exploring the possibility of undoing a high-profile appointment made in the last days of his predecessor's administration, sources said Wednesday.

Gibbons spokesman Brent Boynton confirmed that Gibbons might make changes to former Gov. Kenny Guinn's last-minute picks for state boards and commissions.

"The governor is currently reviewing all appointments, and changes are possible," Boynton said. "There is a potential that changes will be made to appointments made by Governor Guinn."

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Gibbons was looking to oust Keith Munro from the state Gaming Control Board.

In a break from tradition, Guinn appointed Munro to a term that began Monday. Previous departing governors generally have allowed their successors to appoint those who will serve under the new governor.

Guinn's appointment of Munro was seen as a gesture of hostility toward Gibbons, with whom he had a frosty relationship though both governors are Republicans. Munro previously served as Guinn's chief of staff and is seen as a Guinn loyalist.

Guinn made another Gaming Control Board appointment, returning board Chairman Dennis Neilander, but that pick was not considered as controversial as Munro's.

Gibbons tried before to stop Munro from serving on the control board. After Guinn announced in November that he was appointing Munro, staff members in Gibbons' office tried unsuccessfully to get the secretary of state to not sign the appointment papers.

Munro, reached Wednesday at his control board office, was surprised to hear what apparently was going on behind his back. He signed an oath of office when Guinn announced his appointment in late December and has been at his new job, which is full-time, since Monday.

"I've heard nothing," he said. "No one has talked to me, and I would assume that they would."

Whether Gibbons legally could undo Munro's appointment was unclear Wednesday.

In appointing Munro and Neilander to terms that would start Jan. 1, Guinn relied on a 2005 attorney general's opinion that said he could appoint people to posts whose terms expired after his successor was elected but before the new governor was sworn in.

Munro was named to the board position previously held by Bobby Siller, who did not seek reappointment. Siller's term expired at midnight on Dec. 31.

Gibbons was sworn in at the stroke of midnight because of security concerns, according to a 2:33 a.m. Jan. 1 press release from his staff. The chief justice of the Supreme Court came to Gibbons' home to administer the oath.

Gibbons began stating his oath about a minute before midnight. His chief of staff, Mike Dayton, said Gibbons completed the oath at 12 seconds after midnight. Dayton came up with the time by checking a clock placed on a coffee table in the room.

Gibbons' midnight oath might invalidate Guinn's appointments on a technicality, according to the basis of the 2005 attorney general's opinion.

In the 2005 opinion, then-Attorney General Brian Sandoval cited an appointment former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan made to a position that became vacant at midnight on Dec. 31, 1978. That appointment was valid because "Governor Robert List was not sworn in until 10:00 a.m. on January 1, 1979," the opinion said.

Between midnight and 10 a.m., O'Callaghan was still considered governor, and the board position was vacant.

The fact that the two circumstances occurred simultaneously made O'Callaghan's appointment legal, the attorney general said.

Thus, if no time lapse between the end of one governor's term and the start of another's occurred, then the previous governor's appointments possibly would not count.

The flip-side argument is that the control board appointments by Guinn took effect at exactly midnight, while Gibbons did not become governor for another 12 seconds. Also, he started the oath before 2007 began.

The review of the legality of any gubernatorial appointments normally would include an analysis by the state attorney general. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, has not been asked for such an analysis.

Boynton said Gibbons' statement that fears of terrorism, intensified by the recent execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, were the reason for the midnight oath was true.

The ability to reverse Guinn's last-minute appointments "was not the intent" of the oath's timing, Boynton said. He said he did not know what legal reasoning would allow Gibbons to undo appointments made by Guinn.

Munro said he had been under the impression that Gibbons planned to keep him.

"We (Munro and Guinn) met with then-Governor-elect Gibbons during the transition, and he never expressed any wish to change my position," Munro said. "Mike Dayton congratulated me on my appointment. ... We worked with them on the transition. We extended the courtesy of allowing them to move into the governor's office early," on Friday.

Munro, a lawyer who formerly served in the attorney general's office and as Guinn's chief counsel, said Guinn thought the 2005 attorney general's opinion allowed him to make appointments.

"The Legislature set a time frame to allow the outgoing governor to appoint to this position if he saw cause to do so, and I believe Governor Guinn saw cause," Munro said.

Munro said he had been a registered Republican but changed his registration to nonpartisan after Guinn named him to the gaming board so as not to be seen as having partisan motives.

"The governor should have a lot bigger issues to worry about than little old me," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.