Sam Morris / LAS VEGAS SUN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- Gov. Jim Gibbons responds when asked why he now gets to the office at 9 a.m. when he used to arrive at 7 a.m.
- Gibbons talks about where he works from.
- Gibbons explains his schedule last week.
- Gibbons talks about how a governor does more when not behind a desk.
- Gibbons talks about working on weekends and sometimes taking personal days off.
Beyond the Sun
Gov. Jim Gibbons has become a fleeting presence in Carson City, rarely showing up at his Capitol office and making few public appearances.
His absence has led officials, including current and former supporters, to wonder how the governor is spending his time as the state faces a worsening economic slowdown and the steepest budget cuts since the Great Depression.
A review of Gibbons’ attendance in the past nine weeks found that in August he was in his Capitol office five days, and never for a full eight hours on any of those days. In September, he showed up seven days. By comparison, his predecessor, Gov. Kenny Guinn, estimates he spent four of every five days in the office.
On some days when Gibbons did show up, he attended a meeting or two before leaving for the day.
On many days when the governor did not go to his office, he had one or two public events, such as a business opening, a speech to a Rotary Club or an evening dinner. The rest of his time on those days was unaccounted for.
Gibbons said in an interview last week that he spends about 60 hours a week working for the state. “I never knew this job had a time frame on it that requires me to be sitting behind a desk at a certain hour,” he said. “I often work 16- to 18-hour days in this job, getting home at midnight.
“There are many days that I am spending time down in Las Vegas — I have an office in Las Vegas. I have an office in the mansion and I can work there at 7 a.m. in the morning, making phone calls just as easily as I can do it here.”
Gibbons and his staff refused to release his full schedule to the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper tracked his whereabouts through firsthand observation and by reviewing his schedule of public appearances and conducting daily interviews with state employees. (A day-by-day calendar of his whereabouts accompanies this story.)
Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons’ spokesman, would not release a list of the days the governor spent in the Las Vegas office. “I think it could be misinterpreted into being a measure of how much the governor is working,” he said.
The governor’s staff did not dispute the Sun’s count of Gibbons’ days in attendance in Carson City, but noted that it did not account for time the governor was working in Las Vegas.
Sources with knowledge of the governor’s full schedule said Gibbons rarely is in the Las Vegas office.
The four previous Nevada governors, two Democrats and two Republicans, said they spent most of their time in the Carson City office and viewed it as necessary to doing the job as the state’s chief executive.
Former senior state officials under governors other than Gibbons expressed disbelief that he could be out of the office so much and still do his job.
“You can only play Howard Hughes for so long,” said one former Cabinet-level official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Eventually you have to show your face.”
(Hughes was an eccentric and reclusive billionaire who spent years living in a Las Vegas hotel.)
One insider with knowledge of the executive office said Gibbons’ staff “has to beg for face time with the governor, or else just walk into the office when he’s there.”
Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ chief of staff since July, defended the governor.
“He might not be at his desk every hour of every day, but he’s at a variety of events and meetings throughout the state,” he said. “He’s always available to staff by phone and e-mail if he doesn’t happen to be in the office.”
Although the former governors, particularly Guinn, his immediate predecessor, were actively involved in the budget process, Hicks said Gibbons “is not a micromanager. But he’s briefed on all the issues in the state and makes the final decisions.”
To be sure, the governor has busy days. Occasionally, he begins working early in the morning and stops late at night.
In the interview, Gibbons recounted his schedule last week.
“I was in Las Vegas in the office Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I came back home Wednesday. I was here Wednesday, went back to Las Vegas on Thursday.”
Many weekdays, however, it’s unclear where he is or what he is doing.
The governor has been out of state 17 days out of 63, dating to July 30 — more than a quarter of the time. When the governor is out of state, gubernatorial authority transfers to the lieutenant governor.
Gibbons challenged the claim that hours in the office are a good measure of how much time he works.
He said, “I think a governor can do more by visiting agencies throughout the state he’s responsible for, listening and talking to constituents, putting his feet on the ground so he’s aware of issues that are affecting the state.”
He said he also does business while he’s in the car driven by his security detail.
He said the Sun’s attempt to account for his time should not be a story. If his schedule is newsworthy, the Sun should also investigate when the state’s other constitutional officers are in the office, he said.
Otherwise, “I will presume you are just trying to be vindictive,” he said.
The Sun contacted Secretary of State Ross Miller, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Controller Kim Wallin and Treasurer Kate Marshall. All said they are in the office every week day, either in Las Vegas or in Carson City, unless they are at a professional conference. (Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki’s job is part-time.)
All declined to comment on the governor’s schedule.
When Gibbons first took office in January 2006 for the $141,000-a-year job, he was a regular presence in Carson City, often coming into work at 7 a.m. Gradually, the time spent in his office has decreased.
Gibbons denied his frequent absences from his Carson City office had anything to do with his pending divorce from First Lady Dawn Gibbons or his stays at his home in Reno.
In February, the governor announced he planned to ask Dawn Gibbons for a divorce. In June, attorneys for the Gibbonses released an agreement under which Dawn Gibbons would move out of the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City and into a guesthouse at the mansion. The governor, who had lived in the couple’s Reno home, was supposed to move back into the mansion, according to the agreement.
Gibbons said he spends a “fair share” of his nights at the Governor’s Mansion, a few blocks from his Capitol office.
However, sources said he has spent only a couple of days at the Governor’s Mansion since the June agreement. (State law requires the governor to live in Carson City.)
Questions about Gibbons’ whereabouts come as state department heads submit budgets that will set funding levels for the next two years. Department budgets were due to the governor’s budget office by Sept. 1 and his executive staff has been hearing verbal presentations from department staff.
Gibbons ordered departments to submit budgets with 14 percent cuts to address a shortfall expected to exceed $1 billion.
“Every day we are sitting here meeting with staff, meeting with directors of every department, going over the budgets,” Gibbons said. He later clarified his remarks, saying he was meeting with department heads and budget staff on the days he was in the office.
According to sources, until recently, some department heads had not met one-on-one with the governor in more than a year. The state has 14,000 employees.
“It’s impossible to get anything out of that office,” one department head said.
The four previous Nevada governors said they spent a significant amount of time in the Capitol office, meeting with staff and preparing budgets.
“To be governor, I, personally, had to be in the office most of the time,” said former Gov. Bob List, a Republican supporter of Gibbons who served from 1979 to 1983.
Former Democratic Gov. Richard Bryan, who served from 1983 to 1989, said he spent much of his time in the office, particularly during the budget process. But, Bryan said, “a guy who spends all his time in office would clearly be a disservice. As a leader, he must make appearances to advocate for his agenda.”
Former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller, who served from 1989 to 1999, said: “Everybody has different styles. It’s up to the public to decide what’s appropriate or not. I thought it was very important to be in the office, have the presence every day.”
Guinn, who served from 1999 to 2006, estimated he was in the office “80 percent of the time.”
Asked if a governor could run the office by telephone or computer, Guinn said no. “You always have to have a phone. But he would have to be in those meetings.”
As for his time out of state, Gibbons said he has met with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr.
From Aug. 6 to Aug. 8, he was on a trail ride with Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to discuss issues, such as endangered species, that the states share.
From Aug. 31 to Sept. 5, he was at the Republican National Convention, though those in attendance, including members of the media, said he was rarely seen with the Nevada Delegation.
Two of Gibbons’ out-of-state trips, from July 30 to Aug. 2 and from Sept. 12 to Sept. 14, were personal.
In the interview, the Sun asked how many vacations the governor had taken in the past two months. He would not answer.
“What day of the week would you call a vacation?” the governor asked.
When a reporter asked specifically about weekdays, Gibbons replied: “OK, if I work on a Saturday is that considered a comp day or something? A lot of times I will work on a weekend, too. Is that comp days?”
Gibbons then said: “There are no rules. There are no real workdays. Seven days a week, I’m the governor. Seven days a week.”