Battle escalates over gaming appointment

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Gov. Jim Gibbons

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons put the membership of the Gaming Control Board into legal limbo Thursday, naming his own man to the same seat to which Keith Munro was appointed by outgoing Gov. Kenny Guinn.

With two men named to the same post, Secretary of State Ross Miller put in an emergency request to the Nevada Attorney General's Office asking what his authority is in situations like this.

Although the opinion issued late in the day by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jim Spencer doesn't answer the question of who is the rightful holder of the seat, Miller signed Gibbons' choice - Gaming Control Investigative Chief Randall Sayre. But since Munro hasn't resigned, there are now two people appointed to fill a single seat on the board.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said Miller's only responsibility was to certify that the governor's signature was legitimate. She said Miller had no obligation to resolve legal questions about the appointments of either Sayre or Munro.

Gaming Control Board members don't serve at the pleasure of the governor.

Members are appointed fixed, four-year terms - legal language designed to provide them with some insulation from political pressure.

Guinn appointed Munro in November, following his reappointment in October of Chairman Dennis Neilander. Guinn made the appointments effective with the new year. He said at the time he had legal advice indicating it was within his power to do so.

Guinn made the same type of appointment for Carson District Judge Todd Russell, who replaced Judge Mike Griffin and was sworn in to office Monday. Griffin retired Dec. 31.

Gibbons said Thursday he would look into that, but, "I may have to reappoint Mr. Russell, too."

Thursday, Gibbons named Sayre to the seat and also reappointed Chairman Neilander.

Neilander said he was glad to get his four-year appointment from Gibbons, adding that board members have "a lot of hard work ahead of us."

The board is scheduled to meet next week in Las Vegas. If there's still uncertainty over the clashing appointments of Munro and Sayre at that time, it's likely that only two of the three members - Neilander and Mark Clayton - would be present.

Gibbons said he believes Guinn didn't have the authority to appoint Munro or give Neilander another term as chairman because those two positions didn't become vacant until Jan. 1.

"I think I'm perfectly within my rights," Gibbons said. "I was the governor the day those appointments took effect."

He said that legal analysis wasn't based on any formal opinion but on his and his staff's review of the law.

Munro said Thursday that Guinn asked him to serve on the Control Board but "if the appointment is invalid, I can completely accept that."

"But I haven't been told that by anybody," Munro said. "Everybody along the way told me it was valid."

Asked whether he might consider seeking a legal opinion or even going to court to resolve the validity issue, Munro said, "I'm still thinking through it."

Gibbons tried unsuccessfully to block Munro's appointment, asking then-Secretary of State Dean Heller not to confirm Munro to the post.

Heller declined, saying he doubts the secretary of state has the authority to reject a gubernatorial appointment.

Gibbons emphasized he wasn't demeaning Munro's service to the state or his abilities, and denied it was political.

"This is not about me. It's not about Gov. Guinn. It's not about Keith Munro. I want to preserve the board from being a political board," he said.

He praised Munro's abilities and his service to the state, calling him "a great public servant."

But he said Sayre is better qualified.

"Historically, membership on that board has been limited to those who've got a strong record of investigative service," he said, pointing out that Sayre has been with Gaming Control 25 years and was head of its investigative division for a decade.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750. Associated Press reporter Brendan Riley contributed to this report.

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