An obscure component of Nevada's push to attract new business quietly disappeared Friday, when the state eliminated its Office of Diplomatic Relations and Protocol.
Even the honorary and general consuls for countries based in the state, who worked with the office, acknowledged that few people knew about it. They quickly added that it did not mean Nevada conducted its own foreign policy.
Instead, former protocol chief Gayle Anderson served as the formal point of contact for visiting diplomats and helped steer foreign trade delegations to potential partners. She also canvassed countries that might be interested in stationing a consul in the state, and suggested candidates for foreign government and State Department clearance to fill the posts.
Anderson declined to comment about her departure after 15 years on the job. During her tenure, the number of consuls in Nevada grew from four to 28.
Officials at the governor's Office of Economic Development said in a statement, "The (office) is aligning the international division to reflect the objectives outlined in the state plan: increase exports and increase foreign direct investment. Gayle's years of service to the State of Nevada are valued greatly and she has helped to contribute to Nevada's positive image internationally."
Since his election, Gov. Brian Sandoval has placed a priority on reorganizing and revitalizing efforts to attract new business to diversify an economy traditionally reliant on tourism and real estate development.
"You have to recognize that when you market Nevada, you not only do it in the continental U.S. but also other countries," said former Gov. Bob Miller, who is the honorary consul to Bulgaria. "That means having good relationships with ambassadors and consuls general, and (the protocol office) was a benefit to building these contacts."
Miller created the office in 1998, when Anderson approached him after serving as the chief of protocol for Orange County, Calif. She spent the first three months as a volunteer before the office was turned into a full-time paid position.
John Petkus, honorary consul to Poland, said that not having a chief of protocol "kind of shows that the state is not looking forward" in trying to attract international business: "It's a piece of a bigger puzzle that might make people think Nevada is not as serious as other places."
Neighboring states, including Colorado, Arizona and Utah, have protocol chiefs, as do some counties and even cities in California.
They come into play when people from another country that lacks a formal presence in Las Vegas want to know where to start, Petkus said. Diplomats, in particular, prefer to deal with an established channel, he said.
Some have hinted that the office's elimination stems from disagreements between consuls who supported the traditional structure and those allied with Jonathan Warren, the honorary consul to Monaco. Warren helped form the Consular Chamber of Commerce, an international group, and recently started the Las Vegas Consular Corps. He could not be reached for comment.
"There are differing philosophies and levels of personal interest," said Miller, a supporter of Anderson.
Going forward, he added, the governor's office "needs to deal with all the information and viewpoints and not just a small group, and I emphasize small."
Acknowledging the rift, Petkus said, "Some of us try to be Switzerland and try to stay away from the internal politics. We like people on both sides of the fence."
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.