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EDITORIAL: A bureaucrat running wild

As chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, Dan Klaich is among the state’s highest paid public officials, with a salary of more than $300,000, according to TransparentNevada.com. In 2015, when accounting for “other pay” ($32,000) and benefits, his total compensation spiked to nearly $380,000.

For that kind of taxpayer cash, Mr. Klaich should feel compelled to make his agency as transparent as possible, and should be apologetic and embarrassed when it isn’t.

But he’s apparently none of the above.

As reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Bethany Barnes, Mr. Klaich and other system officials actively worked to undermine the Legislature’s effort to overhaul college and university funding models in recent years, going so far as to present a false document to lawmakers and joking about it afterward. Using the state public records act, the Review-Journal accessed hundreds of pages of emails sent to and from state higher education officials between November 2011 and September 2012.

The system’s intentions were revealed in a December 2011 email from Mr. Klaich to researchers at the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, asking for help from the purported nonpartisan resource. Mr. Klaich explained that he felt a state interim legislative committee — led by then-state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford — lacked leadership, creating an opportunity to “drive the agenda.” Later, Mr. Klaich referred to the center as his “special consultant” in a message to Jane Nichols, a former chancellor who still worked in the system.

In his defense, Mr. Klaich said that the emails “reveal the intense and detailed work on my part, NSHE staff and its institutions in developing a funding formula proposal that would address, as fairly and equitably as possible, the diverse needs of the institutions and the students.” But that doesn’t explain messages that blew apart any notion the Colorado outfit was impartial in the funding debate, even though legislative committee members were told just that.

In one message, Mr. Klaich thanked researchers for giving him “ammo” in his fight. Then, in a string of messages from August 2012, the system-consultant relationship was revealed to be so close that the think tank let system officials write a memo under the center’s letterhead. “I will just figure out what you would say and put in on your letterhead :)” Mr. Klaich wrote to former NCHEMS President Dennis Jones, who replied, “Make the bill a big ‘un.” To which Mr. Klaich responded, “I assure you it will be worth your time,” and messaged Mr. Jones a day later that he was indeed working on that “big ‘un.”

Mr. Klaich claims the R-J is “trying to misconstrue the information by selectively taking quotes out of context.” What’s to misconstrue about Mr. Klaich writing reports on behalf of a “nonpartisan” consultant in favor of his and the higher-ed system’s goals? Or making the bill “a big ‘un”?

And these types of incidents aren’t isolated. A 2014 commissioned review, again from NCHEMS (cost: $10,000), actually supported reforming the Nevada System of Higher Education, but was never released; Mr. Klaich had it rewritten, then suppressed it entirely. A subsequent investigation — by an attorney the higher-ed system paid about $57,000 — found no wrongdoing by Mr. Klaich and no violations of higher education standards. Of course not.

Regents and lawmakers need to take control of this situation, instead of letting a bureaucrat run wild trying to protect his turf. Ms. Barnes reported Thursday that the regents have called a special meeting to discuss the matter. Good. It’s long past time to heed the call for reform.

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