Circling the wagons among Klaich, Nevada’s Elites

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich is a really, really good guy.

That was the consensus of Nevada’s Political Class last week as it rose to defend one of its own. Klaich was under fire for burying a draft report about the governance of Nevada’s community colleges and ordering the document re-written by a pliable consultant.

But Klaich had no need to worry. Official Nevada had his back. Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, former governor and senator Richard Bryan, former University of Nevada Reno President Joe Crowley, lobbyist John Sande III and many more wrote letters of support for Klaich, all attesting to his good character and professional achievements.

But what those letters did not say — what they could not say — was this: Klaich is innocent. They couldn’t say he didn’t do it. They couldn’t say the Review-Journal’s stories about the suppression of the critical draft, written by reporter Bethany Barnes, were wrong.

Even the investigative report prepared by San Francisco attorney Stephen Hirschfeld acknowledged Klaich rejected the original version of the report, commenting in one memorable email, “I could see this report costing me my job.” (Hirschfeld concluded, however, that Klaich “did not violate any ethical or governance standards of higher education.”)

But many regents and other Klaich defenders fell all over themselves to praise the chancellor last week, from the ridiculous (“The chancellor is guilty of caring too much,” said Regent James Dean Leavitt) to the sublime (“Knowing him has enriched my life,” said former NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira).

It was Yackira, along with some other top members of Nevada’s Elite — philanthropist and state Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Wynn, Gaming Commissioner Pat Mulroy, and Latin Chamber President Otto Merida — who came closest to actually defending Klaich.

In a letter originally written as an op-ed for the Review-Journal, Yackira and Co. write: “Every good CEO will seek diverse positions on matters, especially controversial ones, before making decisions. … Diverse viewpoints always lead to better decisions, and the CEO should provide opportunities for all different perspectives to be aired and discussed.”

But Klaich did the exact opposite of that! He spurned the draft report, saying it contained errors and was otherwise not to his liking, and ordered it rewritten, after which it was never delivered to regents for discussion.

“The articles and editorials imply that Chancellor Klaich should bring to the regents every differing position or thought instead of doing what a good CEO does, namely analyze the varying view points [sic], deliberate and make a decision, even if controversial,” Yackira and Co. added in their letter. “If that is the suggested process, what’s the role of the chancellor? It should be obvious that positions that are different from the final decision are part of a healthy deliberative process, not ‘squelched’ as said in the articles.”

A better question might be: What then is the role of the regents, who are supposed to be the policymaking body for the system? Shouldn’t they be the ones deliberating over consultant reports?

The number of lawyers who wrote to defend Klaich without ever attempting to muster facts to make their case was striking. Reno attorney Keith Lee, a former Klaich law partner, even went so far as to imply the Review-Journal’s reporting was “Monday morning quarterbacking,” “petty criticism” and “cherry-picking facts to support a preconceived opinion.” But if Lee had facts of his own to present in Klaich’s defense, he neglected to mention even a single one.

In fact, the intensity of the wagon-circling among Nevada’s Elites raises far more questions than it answers. Chief among them: If Klaich really is the person of sterling character described in their hagiographic testimony, how could he have exercised such manifestly poor judgment in this case?

— Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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