Legal questions raised by move from mansion

Gov. Jim Gibbons' move from the Governor's Mansion while he and his wife sort out marital problems has raised questions about his compliance with an old state law mandating that he "reside at" Carson City.

The 1866 law says a governor must "keep his office and reside at the seat of government." It once applied to most constitutional officers but over the years they've all been exempted from the requirement by the Legislature.

While first lady Dawn Gibbons remains at the Governor's Mansion and Gibbons is spending nights at their Reno residence, Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer said it's a temporary situation and there's no law violation.

"The governor has spent the vast majority of his time so far during his term at the mansion and plans to in the future, and requests privacy during this difficult time," Kieckhefer said.

"The governor continues to operate state business in the mansion," Kieckhefer added, referring to activity such as a recent cabinet meeting and press conference in the large events facility attached to the mansion.

Douglas Kmiec, a legal scholar at Pepperdine University, said the "reside at" wording in Nevada law suggests "a more demanding requirement than the general standard for residency" since the same wording has been erased for several other state elected officials.

But Kmiec added, "It's not inconceivable that the governor would have a plausible argument that he could be away from Carson City for a temporary period of time without losing his residency in Carson City."

Jim Denton, a chief political consultant for Gibbons, confirmed Friday that Gibbons was staying at the Reno home that the governor and his wife have owned since 1989.

The governor's office acknowledged in February that the more than 21-year marriage was struggling.

It's not the first time the couple has lived apart. Dawn Gibbons did not move to Washington to live with her husband during the 10 years he served in Congress. She said she preferred to raise the couple's son in Nevada. The governor, a Republican, also has two grown children from a previous marriage.

The Governor's Mansion, about one-half mile from the Nevada Capitol, was built from 1908 to 1909 on privately donated land for the governor and family. The maintenance and operating budget for the mansion is $742,000 for the current fiscal year and next year.

Many Nevada governors have kept separate homes outside Carson City while in office, including Gibbons' predecessor, Kenny Guinn.

One former governor, John Sparks, lived at his ranch south of Reno, outside Carson City, but according to state Archivist Guy Rocha met the legal requirement for residing in the capital city by renting a room in town. Sparks was governor from 1903 to 1908.


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