Who was in charge here?

Gov. Jim Gibbons, following the advice of his campaign consultants, was trying hard last week to appear as the executive in charge during a time of crisis and avoid more missteps. But the delivery of an audit of the search for missing pilot Steve Fossett upended those plans.

During the 17-day search, there was widespread comment about its unusual duration. In April, state legislators demanded an audit, as did Secretary of State Ross Miller. An audit delivered to the Board of Examiners (made up of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general) found that the costs associated with the search ran out of control because no one was in charge.

Gibbons, who commands the state military units in Nevada, ducked responsibility, saying he was out of the loop on the expensive operation: “The level of resources never came to my level for a decision, not that or the dollar amount.”

But an email from veteran Guard official Jeff Zupon that was obtained by Secretary of State Ross Miller said that the governor “was personally responsible for the NGNV [National Guard Nevada] continuing the search beyond what would have been a ‘normal’ search duration.” The March 11 message was a memo that followed a meeting between Gibbons’ staff and the Guard staff.

Gibbons said he was under pressure from prominent people in the aviation world to keep the search for the famed flier going, then he retracted that statement.

The search cost $1.6 million. The state has a revenue shortfall estimated as high as $1.16 billion. Earlier this year, Gibbons sought voluntary reimbursement of $487,000 in search costs from Fossett’s wife, who responded that she had already spent $1 million on continuing a private search. There was no word on whether Gibbons would reimburse the state for expenses beyond the normal duration of the search.

Miller wanted to refer the issue to the legislature for scrutiny before making search-related payments, but Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto sided with Gibbons and voted to pay.