Taxpayers footing bill until Gibbons divorce final
RENO (AP) – Gov. Jim Gibbons’ inability to bring his contested divorce to a close means Nevada has the benefit of a first lady for a bit longer.
It also means the state must foot the bill for Dawn Gibbons’ attendance at official events, including travel, security and per diem.
After 18 months locked in a bitter court battle, the couple’s 24-year marriage was supposed to come to an end Feb. 28. But the governor has been unable to pay $275,000 he owes his wife under a divorce settlement reached in December. Nor has the Republican governor sold the couple’s Reno home as ordered by the court.
In an order issued in late March, Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty affirmed that Jim Gibbons must pay Dawn Gibbons before the final decree will be issued.
Without a final divorce decree, the couple is still married and Dawn Gibbons is technically still first lady.
“She’s first lady as long as they are married or until the divorce is final,” Jim Gibbons spokesman Dan Burns said.
In December, Dawn Gibbons emerged from the settlement hearing to say she would return to being “just a private citizen,” expecting that the marriage would be dissolved within 60 days as ordered by the judge.
Instead, she’s continued with her official first lady duties, appearing at fundraisers and other events, despite efforts by the governor to begin paring down her responsibilities.
“I did say I was finishing up my official duties,” Dawn Gibbons said. “But if somebody wants me to come, I still come. I guess it’s hard to know when it’s official or not. But I’m kind of winding down.”
She rattled off nearly a dozen official appearances she made last month and said more were scheduled in April.
Dawn Gibbons’ travel is funded by taxpayers. For example, when she went to Elko last week for an autism fundraiser, she was driven in a state vehicle by her security detail.
According to state documents, the state has paid nearly $7,000 for Dawn Gibbons’ travel and per diem since June 2009.
Although the amount is small, some question whether the state should still be paying for a first lady because Jim Gibbons can’t manage to finalize the divorce.
To close a $800 million budget shortfall this year, lawmakers scrounged for every penny, emptying accounts as small as $2,000 to help avoid deeper cuts to services.
“The unspoken question is why is she still acting as first lady when in essence she really isn’t,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “I guess it’s up to her, and as long as they are appropriate events, we should provide appropriate security.
“But would it be better for the state for them to conclude their divorce? Yeah, it would be.”
Dawn Gibbons has started to transition to private life, moving from a small guest house at the governor’s mansion and taking a job as a radio talk show host.
She said she’ll likely have a second job by the end of the month, meaning she’ll have little time for first lady appearances.
Meanwhile, Jim Gibbons has started reducing budgets for the first lady. He’s removed her Web site from the official state site and eliminated the position of her assistant, saving $64,000.
“We are slowly saving some money from that aspect, but I cannot tell her her schedule,” said Robin Reedy, Jim Gibbons’ chief of staff. “The reality is it’s a broken relationship and will ultimately end.”
Reedy said security will continue to be available to Dawn Gibbons for her protection.
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