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State bureaucracy is alive and well

by Peter Kostes

Nevada’s state bureaucracy is alive, well and adapting to a new century.

Representatives from Douglas County’s Leadership Class of 2000 learned that firsthand last week during a tour of the state Capitol building, governor’s mansion, Supreme Court, legislative chambers and historical archives. Besides getting a close-up look at the places and people who make government tick, it was a lot of fun snooping around the offices of our top state politicos.

First office on the left as you walk in the front door of the Capitol belongs to Gov. Kenny Guinn. He was out of town, but we got to poke around his digs, admire the furnishings and listen to a little Silver State gubernatorial history from tour guide Sonja Gasper.

State Treasurer Brian Krolicki, a Douglas County resident, also made time to address the visiting delegation from his home county. Krolicki was informative, polite and generous with his time. Of course, that was with Pete Wysocki, a leadership group member and employee of the Douglas County building department, the same agency currently reviewing the treasurer’s residential building permit. (He was nice to the rest of us as well.)

Krolicki’s office juggles the state’s finances, including management and investment of Nevada’s sizable financial reserves. Each month, for example, the treasurer’s office issues more than 90,000 checks.

This is the man you need when your checkbook doesn’t balance.

Others on the itinerary included Controller Kathy Augustine (out for the day) and Secretary of State Dean Heller, who was in and talked about his office and responsibilities, including supporting Nevada’s efforts to get an accurate census count in 2000. Millions of dollars in federal funding are at stake, especially if the state under counts its population as is widely believed occurred a decade ago. As one might expect, Heller’s office also is hot on the paper trail as it handles more than two million transactions annually.

The journalism trade, I noticed with interest, is well represented in the Capitol. Besides the two busts of longtime journalists Guy Shipler and Christy “Chris” Schaller displayed in the hall outside the governor’s office, the first portrait visitors see is that of former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, the Las Vegas newspaper publisher. Heller, a Carson City native, fondly remembered how he had delivered papers to the Capitol during O’Callaghan’s tenure in office.

Upstairs in the old legislative chambers our tour guide showed us the historical displays on exhibit.

“These are the flags from each county in the state,” Sonja said, stopping to unfurl the Douglas banner lined up with others in the hallway.

She stopped to tell the story of similar visit by a group of second-graders from Douglas County. At that time, she discovered the Douglas flag was torn, and made a point to tell her youthful entourage.

“That flag is a disgrace. You need to go home and tell your parents (to do something about it),” Sonja recalled telling the children, one of whom noted a family tie with a state legislator.

“My grandpa is Lawrence Jacobsen.”

“Well, you go home and tell your grandpa the flag is a disgrace,” Sonja said.

Apparently the message reached Sen. Jacobsen, the Douglas County native and veteran 38-year legislator. A few days later, Sonja said, a new flag had replaced the old.

Moving west a few blocks, our group also visited the governor’s mansion – still no governor, but we did spy a video of “Liar Liar” next to the VCR in the private family room. Draw your own conclusions.

The stately home, which recently benefited from a $5 million renovation, has plenty of history, including tales of visiting dignitaries ranging from Madame Sadat to Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s even a story about ghostly stirrings in the night.

No matter the visitor, whether earthly or other worldly, it’s difficult not to admire the results of the facelift.

Although steeped in history and intrigue, much of which can be studied over at the state library and archives next to the capitol, state government also has made significant strides to keep abreast of the information age.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau oversees the state’s sizable efforts to make government accessible to the people. Technology now allows all committee hearings and sessions of the Legislature to be broadcast live on the Internet. The LCB’s information services department operates an impressive network of cameras and audio equipment that provides video conferencing between Carson City and Las Vegas.

Catch the action at http://www.leg.state.nv.us

Other stops on the whirlwind tour of the Capitol complex included the Supreme Court chambers and a visit with Chief Justice Bob Rose. Echoing the state’s booming population growth, especially in the south, Rose noted how the court’s caseload has doubled in recent years and detailed how the high court has tried to cope with the added demands.

Later on the tour, Douglas County representatives Jacobsen and Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick addressed their visitors from the Assembly floor as we settled into the comfortable $700 leather chairs in the empty hall. After sitting for about 45 minutes listening to the two men offer insight into the inner workings of state government, one has a greater understanding of why the top-of-the-line seats were purchased for those long sessions. (Last go-round the Legislature passed about 600 of the 1,200 bills it considered).

As long as the chairs last a few sessions, I couldn’t begrudge anyone for the extra expense – besides, have you priced furniture lately?

Having not visited a state Capitol complex since grade school, the one-day refresher course was enlightening. No doubt, Nevada’s government halls are more accessible and open than many others. All the more reason for Douglas County residents to take advantage of their proximity to the capital and chance to make their voices heard on matters of state interest.

The next time your kid’s class schedules a field trip to the Capitol, I highly recommend playing hooky from work and tagging along.

– Peter Kostes is publisher of The Record-Courier.