Friday was Rick Combs’ last day as director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
Combs, 51, retired after nearly 26 years with the state, the last 7½ as head of the 300 permanent staff who serve the legislative branch.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting of the Committee to Consult with the Director, lawmakers praised his leadership and demeanor. Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas said Combs, “led LCB in a way that reflected the kind of non-partisan love for our state I think the institution deserves.”
“We probably created the need for a lot of Advil over the years,” he said.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the state is “better off for you. You created the environment that allowed us to do the best job we could.”
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, and Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson, D-Reno, described him as the “calm cucumber” with the presence of mind and professionalism who was always available to the lawmakers.
Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, chaired the committee that selected Combs following the retirement of Lorne Malkiewich in 2012 after 18 years in that position.
“We had a lot of expectations and you met those and exceeded those,” Denis said.
Combs started as a lawyer in the Legal Division but moved to the Fiscal Division where he spent 14 years, finishing as the Assembly Analyst before becoming director. He said he believes his biggest accomplishments were helping the Legislature adjust to the arrival of term limits and the numerous changes in leadership in the divisions that make up LCB. He was appointed just as a number of veteran division heads were retiring. In his tenure, he said, he has had three Research Division directors, three different auditors as well as changes in the Administrative and Fiscal divisions.
He said the only two remaining chiefs from when he was appointed are Brenda Erdoes who heads Legal and Senate Fiscal Analyst Mark Krmpotic.
“One of the major roles of this position is to make sure those position chiefs are high quality people who continue the legacy of providing a non-partisan product,” he said.
He said he has been very fortunate to have high quality people working for him at every level, “from the people leading divisions down to the people in buildings and grounds.”
“There are a lot of people doing a great job and I get credit for it,” he said.
Combs said every legislative session has had its challenges. His first session involved what appeared to be a mental breakdown suffered by Assemblyman Steven Brooks of Las Vegas that resulted in his arrest and expulsion from the Legislature.
More recent sessions focused on the accusations of sexual impropriety by Sen. Mark Manendo of Las Vegas among others.
After Combs and his girlfriend, now wife, Allison graduated from law school in Tennessee, they made an agreement they would marry and settle where whichever one of them got the best job. After she got a job with LCB Research, he said he moved west from Tennessee.
Combs credited Malkiewich for his support and generosity in helping him understand and manage LCB after he was appointed.
He said he benefitted greatly because he, “didn’t have to save a sinking ship.” He said he believes his successor will have the same benefit as he or she inherits a top flight staff.
Combs said he will also pay Malkiewich’s generosity forward if his successor ever has the need to talk things over.
As for changes the new director might make, he said, “I think sometimes there’s something to be gained from having a little shakeup at the top.”
He said he has no plans yet for the future but plans to regularly visit his mother in Tennessee and become more involved with his three children, two of whom are still in high school.
“It’ll be nice to participate in their lives a little more than when I was working,” he said.