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Shift in Henderson city attorney qualifications a boon for Josh Reid

Josh Reid is the most recent beneficiary/victim of being the son of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

It’s widely believed (although Henderson officials deny it) that the minimum requirements for the vacant Henderson city attorney’s job were rewritten to benefit Josh Reid’s candidacy. It’s also widely believed (again Henderson city officials deny it) that Josh Reid’s selection is inevitable because the mayor and City Council know the senator can hurt them or help them with their federal needs.

A few facts: On Aug. 11, the original job posting, with a pay range between $126,629 and $199,471, said the minimum requirements would be 10 years of experience as a practicing attorney, including five years “which must have been with a public agency.”

Josh Reid didn’t meet those minimum standards. He has no experience as a lawyer for a public agency. He has worked for three law firms starting September 2001, so in August he was just shy of meeting the 10-year standard.

Around Labor Day, just before the Sept. 6 application deadline, the senator made some calls to push his son’s candidacy. Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen recalled Thursday that the senator told him that Hafen “would find nobody more academically qualified than Josh.”

Henderson Human Resources Director Fred Horvath said that of the 31 or 32 applicants, “70 percent didn’t meet the minimum qualifications. I was flabbergasted.”

So, to widen the applicant pool, Horvath said, he lowered the minimum requirements to eight years as a practicing attorney or an equivalent combination of education, training and work experience.

Downgraded to “highly desirable qualifications” would be “experience as an attorney for a public agency” and “experience in a leadership/management role.”

The pool rose to 46 applicants.

Of the six semifinalists, however, only Josh Reid didn’t meet the initial higher standards.

And of the six semifinalists, he had the least experience — now 10 years in private practice.

The others all had at least five years of public agency experience and from 17 to 25 years as lawyers.

Yet, Josh Reid is one of two finalists.

The other is Christine Guerci-Nyhus, with 21 years experience and eight years at public agencies, including seven years at the attorney general’s office. She joined the Henderson city attorney’s office in 2010 and spent 11 years in private practice. She is now the interim city attorney after the August resignation of City Attorney Liz Quillin. (When Guerci-Nyhus applied, the standard included 10 years with a public agency.)

Josh Reid has a 1997 environmental science degree from Yale University and a law degree in 2000 from the University of Arizona Law School.

Guerci-Nyhus has a 1983 bachelor’s in history and physics and a law degree from the New York Law School in 1991.

A decision is expected at the Nov. 29 council meeting, when Hafen plans to publicly disclose that his daughter Tessa worked for Sen. Reid for eight years, including time as his spokesperson.

Hafen hadn’t planned to make a public disclosure until I asked Wednesday whether he had asked for a legal opinion to determine whether he had any conflict by voting on the senator’s son.

He quickly called outside counsel for a verbal opinion. He said the attorney advised him that he didn’t have a conflict but that he should disclose his daughter’s previous employment before voting.

“People in the know already know,” Hafen said, echoing the Rep. Shelley Berkley way of thinking about disclosures involving her husband.

The mayor and council will take a political hit no matter what they do. If they choose Josh Reid, then it’s perceived as a typical juice job.

If they choose the more experienced Guerci-Nyhus, though, they face the wrath of Harry. And believe me, he never forgets a slight.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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