Ethics hearing dismissed against governor | NevadaAppeal.com

Ethics hearing dismissed against governor

Jill Keller, Appeal Staff Writer

The state Commission on Ethics dismissed a complaint Monday against Gov. Kenny Guinn that alleged he violated state law when he appointed the interim director of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

The commission’s executive director recommended the dismissal, but said she has lingering concerns about the treatment she received from the governor’s staff during the investigation.

“The reaction (by state staff) to the investigation was certainly unusual,” said Executive Director Stacy Jennings, who was hired in May.

Judy Hendrix of Carson City filed a complaint in May that alleged the appointment of Scott Sisco as interim cultural affairs chief was improper because he did not have a four-year college degree as required.

The complaint alleged Sisco would benefit financially in the long term by earning more money in retirement and was receiving an unwarranted financial benefit by earning more than his qualifications should allow.

Sisco oversees the divisions of Historic Preservation, Library and Archives, Museums and History and the Nevada Arts Council.

Jennings submitted a report to commissioners Friday that said there was clear justification for Sisco’s appointment as interim director and she was not able to find that he would financially benefit in the long term unless he held the position for another 16 months.

Sisco was appointed interim director March 18, 2001, replacing director Mike Hillerby who left to join the governor’s staff. A 1976 Carson High School graduate, Sisco held the position of administrative services officer and has worked for 16 years for the state, according to the report.

During the investigation into whether Sisco has a proper degree, Jennings faced several obstacles.

“Mr. Sisco was hostile to the investigative efforts and refused to release any records,” Jennings said. Sisco, who was unavailable for comment Monday, refused to disclose personal information.

Subpoenas were served on the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Department of Personnel and the Budget Division requesting personnel records. Those departments refused to release information.

Sisco also issued a letter to his staff stopping them from talking directly to Jennings.

The Ethics Commission never received the information requested.

In a report, Jennings said she finds the relationship between governor’s staff and the appointments to the Cultural Affairs Department “troubling.”

She said the appearance of impropriety was more troubling “when coupled with the refusal of governor’s staff or counsel to cooperate in the investigation, the gag order issued by the (department) at the request of the governor’s office.”

Jennings said her lingering concern centers around the hindrance of the ethics investigation process and the inability of state employees to be allowed to confidentially discuss information.

“If (employees) are going to be intimidated in coming forward, how can we be guaranteed to follow the process that’s set forth under law?” Jennings said.

Keith Munro, chief counsel to the governor, said the subpoenas were not filed properly and therefore not required to be followed.

“(The commission) was given all the information they needed,” Munro said. Sisco’s personnel files were a personal matter and did not need to be shared, he said.

Munro said what concerns the governor’s office most is evidence that Jennings began an investigation into the matter before a formal complaint was filed.

The governor’s office was concerned during the investigation that Jennings showed an interest in the director’s position at the Department of Cultural Affairs last year, said Greg Bortolin, the governor’s press secretary.

“It’s just sour grapes,” he said.

Jennings said her office was approached about the issue before the formal complaint, and it is within the commission’s authority to look into any information it receives. She said she had turned in her resume for a number of jobs before accepting her current position in May.

Jennings had disclosed both issues to the commission.

Munro said Sisco is not qualified for a permanent position as department director and the governor is looking for someone to fill the position permanently.

“It was a frivolous complaint by a former employee,” Munro said. “We’re happy that this matter was dismissed quickly.”