Las Vegas Sun

December 11, 2023

Guinn cleared of ethics violation

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Kenny Guinn has been cleared by a panel of the state Ethics Commission of a conflict of interest charge in a hotly disputed case in which the Guinn administration was accused of stonewalling the investigation into the complaint.

The administration and its lawyers issued "gag orders" on employees not to talk to Ethics Commission officials, refused to honor subpoenas and tried to discredit Ethics Commission Executive Director Stacy Jennings, according to Jennings' report.

Keith Munro, counsel to Guinn, denied the allegations about the gag order and the subpoenas. He said it was a "silly complaint" and the governor was happy it was dismissed. He called it a "nuisance complaint" that never had any merit.

The case included charges and counter charges between the Guinn administration and its attorneys on one side and Jennings on the other. But it was all kept under wraps until the ethics panel, following Jennings' recommendation, dismissed the case Monday.

The original complaint was filed against Guinn Oct. 23 by Judy Hendriks, a former employee of the state Cultural Affairs Department. She alleged that the governor violated ethics laws by the appointment of Scott Sisco as interim director.

Sisco, who has held the interim positions for 20 months, does not meet the qualifications for director because he does not have a college degree. Hendriks said Guinn's appointment gave Sisco "unwarranted privileges," which is against state law.

Sisco's higher salary in the interim job and the possibility that it could enrich his retirement also amounted to an undeserved benefit, the complaint said.

He made $82,500 a year as interim director, compared with $67,000 a year in his permanent position as administrative service officer.

Jennings, in her report to the commission, said Sisco was "hostile to investigative efforts and refused to release any records without a subpoena." When the subpoenas were issued, Deputy Attorney General Steve Quinn, who also represented Guinn, said they would not be fulfilled.

Munro said employees were advised to talk to an attorney before they talked to Jennings. As for the subpoenas, he said, only the Ethics Commission is empowered to issue those, not its executive director. The commission never answered objections to the subpoenas, he said.

Guinn's camp then went on a counteroffensive, with Solicitor General Tony Clark of the attorney general's office demanding Jennings be removed from the investigation, because she had once applied to be cultural affairs director and it would be to her benefit to see Sisco bounced.

Clark also alleged Jennings had started her investigation Oct. 9, weeks before the complaint was filed Oct. 23.

The full Ethics Commission refused to remove Jennings.

Jennings said she applied for any job in the executive branch of state government in June 2001. When she was not contacted for an interview, she applied for jobs both in the legislative and judicial branches of government. The Ethics Commission, whose members are appointed by Guinn and the Legislature, appointed her in March this year.

Jennings, in a report to the commission, expressed "my disbelief that the governor's office would highly recommend me for Nevada Commission on Ethics executive director and then attempt to discredit my objectivity and impartiality with frivolous accusations regarding a conflict of interest when my statutory duties require an investigation of the governor."

She said she was never interviewed for the cultural affairs position. To make it clear she did not want the job now, she wrote a letter to Guinn saying she was not a candidate and did not want to be considered.