- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada higher education regents approved an early retirement deal Thursday for Chancellor Dan Klaich after he said his role in developing a new college funding formula with lawmakers a few years ago has become a distraction.

Regents poured out praise for Klaich during a special board meeting, saying they were reluctantly approving the deal to let him leave in June but take pay through his contract’s expiration next summer. They voted 12-1 for the agreement, with Regent Mark Doubrava voting no.

“I just hope that does not taint his record or what we’ve done as a board or as a Legislature, which was all enormously positive for the state,” said Regent Michael Wixom. “Let’s not define the chancellor for some of his mistakes. Let’s define him for his hard work and his dedication to the state of Nevada.”

Klaich was accused of misleading the Legislature about the relationship between his staff and their consultant, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, while the state worked in 2012 on a new method for distributing money among colleges. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation examining Klaich’s emails questioned the independence of the consultant, pointing to a memo written by Klaich’s staff but on the consultant’s letterhead.

“Legislatures can’t legislate, the governor can’t govern, when these are the types of antics being played,” Steven Horsford, a Democratic former state senator who was chair of the legislative committee working on the formula, told the newspaper after reviewing the emails. “If this shows anything, it shows that the Legislature is not in charge. If anything they’re being used as tools. That has to change.”

Klaich says he regrets the tone and content of some of his emails, but argued he was clear about the consultant’s role in the process and didn’t intend to mislead lawmakers.

“I don’t want to be a distraction,” he said. “In light of the controversy over these matters, I understand the board may want to transition to new leadership.”

Two attorneys who work for the regents said they reviewed the emails and legislative records that the newspaper reported on, and didn’t find a legal basis for firing Klaich.

“Paying the chancellor a year’s salary if we’ve found he’s done nothing wrong is my least favorite option,” said Regent Trevor Hayes. “Either the chancellor did something wrong or he didn’t, and I don’t think we should allow folks from the outside to pressure us.”

Critics including Democratic former Assemblyman William Horne said that the episode has eroded trust between the higher education system and lawmakers and would make it difficult to complete important policy work ahead of the 2017 legislative session. Assemblymen David Gardner and Elliot Anderson have previously called for Klaich to step down after the documents came to light.

Klaich has worked in Nevada higher education for more than 30 years, including as a regent, lawyer and vice chancellor. He was appointed chancellor in 2009.

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