RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists are suing to rescind Gov. Joe Lombardo’s appointment of a natural resources director they characterize as unfriendly to the environment and ineligible for the job because the Legislature raised the pay for the position while he was a state senator.
Lombardo appointed fellow Republican and ex-state Sen. James Settelmeyer last month as director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, where he’ll oversee the divisions of environmental protection and water resources, as well as state parks and forests.
The Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release about the lawsuit seeking to oust him that Settelmeyer “has opposed significant climate legislation, public lands protections, protecting water, and increasing the budget of the agency he now wants to direct.”
The lawsuit filed in district court in Carson City said his appointment Jan. 6 violates the Nevada Constitution. It seeks an injunction prohibiting him from continuing to serve as director of the department and a court order rescinding his appointment.
“The Nevada Constitution has a strict prohibition on appointments like Sen. Settelmeyer’s, and features a cooling-off period for legislators when they seek government positions whose salary or benefits have increased during their most recent term,” said Bradley Schrager, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Lombardo’s press secretary, Elizabeth Ray, said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday that he doesn’t intend to remove Settelmeyer.
“We have great confidence in Director Settelmeyer and look forward to defending his appointment,” Ben Kieckhefer, Lombardo’s chief of staff, said in a statement.
The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
John Walker, who worked for the state agency for 15 years before he retired in 2013, is a coplaintiff in the suit who lives in Douglas County and was a resident of Settelmeyer’s former Senate district.
“Historically, the public servants who have led the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have risen from within the agency or otherwise gained proven experience in the executive branch of government,” Walker said.
“I’m saddened to see this successful formula undone by this appointment. The department exists to preserve and protect our natural resources and that most worthy mission should never be politicized,” he said in a statement.
The suit said the Legislature approved pay raises for the position multiple times while Settelmeyer was serving there from 2007 to 2022, the last two times during Settelmeyer’s third and final terms in office.
It cites part of the state’s Constitution that prohibits the appointment of Nevada legislators “to any civil office of profit under this state” that has its salary increasing “during the term for which he (or she) shall have been elected, (or) for one year thereafter.”
Settelmeyer voted for salary increases for state officials in the 2019 session, but against them in 2021.
“Nevada’s climate policies and biodiversity protections are too important to leave in the hands of someone as clearly unsuited to lead the state’s conservation agency as Sen. Settelmeyer,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Great Basin director said.
“Gov. Lombardo broke the law in making this appointment, and we’re taking him to court to hold him accountable,” he said.