Gov. Jim Gibbons moved Thursday to dump his predecessor's recent appointee to the powerful Nevada Gaming Control Board, announcing that the job is going to the board's investigative chief, Randy Sayre.
Gibbons also reappointed Dennis Neilander as the board's chairman - something that former Gov. Kenny Guinn had already done in November at the same time he named his chief of staff, Keith Munro, to the panel.
When the governor's office delivered the new paperwork on Sayre to the office of Secretary of State Ross Miller, across the hall in the Nevada Capitol, Miller immediately requested an attorney general's opinion since he already had the documents from Guinn on Munro's appointment.
"It appears that there may be a question as to whether or not any vacancies exist on such board," Miller said in his letter to Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto that requests advice on how he should handle the situation.
Munro didn't immediately return calls to his office. A staffer said he wasn't in the building.
Neilander said he was glad to get his four-year appointment from Gibbons, adding that board members have "a lot of hard work ahead
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 chief of staff Mike Dayton confirmed that Gibbons spoke to both Neilander and Sayre Thursday morning and appointed them. Munro wasn't contacted.
Dayton said Gibbons believes he has the power to make the appointments because he took office at midnight on New Year's Eve,
at the point that the Control Board positions officially became vacant.
Gibbons' move followed word Wednesday that the state's new Republican governor was reviewing all late-term appointments by the
former GOP governor who had clashed with Gibbons over tax issues
and who had not endorsed his candidacy or attended his inauguration.
Asked whether Gibbons' maneuver would be seen as political and possibly damaging to the image of Nevada's gambling regulatory structure, Gibbons spokesman Brent Boynton said the result would be
"quite the opposite."
Boynton said Sayre, with 25 years in Control Board investigations, is highly qualified while Munro "basically was a political appointee - and Gov. Gibbons says the board can't go back to the bad old days."
"He is going out of his way to not make a political appointment," said Boynton, adding that Sayre "is not like some old buddy of the governor."
Boynton also said that Gibbons wants the best casino regulators "so he doesn't mind taking a little heat and creating a little controversy."
Gibbons spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin denied that Gibbons' decision to be sworn in at as close to midnight as possible on New Year's Eve figured in bolstering the legal argument that is being used to undermine Guinn's appointments.
"That was not the intention," Subbotin insisted, when asked about the event that made Gibbons the first governor in Nevada history to be sworn in at that hour. Gibbons said security concerns prompted him to take office as soon as possible.
An antsy Gibbons was watching the clock so closely that he prodded his wife, Dawn, to hurry up and join him in their living room where Chief Justice Bill Maupin delivered Gibbons' oath of office, saying, "Any time, Dawn."
Gibbons began stating his oath about a minute before midnight. Dayton checked a clock placed on a coffee table in the room and said Gibbons completed the oath at 12 seconds after midnight.
Critics of Guinn's appointments say that a 2005 opinion by then-Attorney General George Chanos supports the argument that Gibbons and not Guinn had the authority to decide who gets the Control Board posts because Gibbons became governor at the same time the posts became vacant.
The flipside argument is that the Control Board appointments by Guinn took effect at exactly midnight, while Gibbons didn't become governor for another 12 seconds. Also, he started the oath before 2007 actually began.
Gibbons tried once before to stop Munro from serving on the Control Board. After Guinn announced in November that he was appointing Munro, staffers in Gibbons' office tried unsuccessfully to get the secretary of state to not sign the appointment papers.
Munro is a former deputy attorney general. In 2000 he moved to the governor's office, where he has served as Guinn's general counsel, deputy chief of staff and chief of staff.