Advisory Council

Dana R. Bennett, Ph.D.

Dr. Dana R. Bennett is currently President of the Nevada Mining Association. With more than 25 years of public policy experience in Nevada, Dr. Bennett was previously the Northern Nevada Regional Director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Governor Brian Sandoval’s first Senior Researcher. She began her policy career at the Nevada Legislature where she served as the Staff Director for Nevada’s Committee on Public Lands for nearly a decade and also staffed policy committees concerned with state and local government operations, technology in education, health care, and natural resources. Between her tenures in the legislative and executive branches, Dr. Bennett spent many years in the private sector, operating a policy research business and employed as a legislative advocate with clients in mining, educational innovation, insurance, and construction, among others. With an abiding curiosity about Nevada’s history, she took a break in her career to earn a PhD in history from Arizona State University. Her dissertation explored the intersection between women legislators and tax policy development in Nevada before 1960. Dr. Bennett has authored three books and more than 50 articles, reports, and other publications.

Tim Buchanan

Tim Buchanan is a Public Affairs Administrative Officer in the Office of the Mayor and Council in Henderson where he provides complex analytical work in support of the Mayor. Prior to moving to Henderson, he was the director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Barrick Gold Corporation. Previously, Mr. Buchanan served as  the Senior Advisor/Director of Energy and Extractives Advisory Services at Business for Social Responsibility, and as a Senior Consultant in Sustainable Development at Gold Fields Limited. He has a B.S. in mining engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and a Master of Science in water resource management.  Mr. Buchanan serves on the board of the Nature Conservancy, and previously served on the board of Outside Las Vegas Foundation and the Western Shoshone Scholarship Foundation. He has lived abroad and traveled extensively.

Miles Dickson

Miles Dickson is a third-generation Las Vegan with expertise and practical insight in the areas of government and public affairs, public policy, strategy, social responsibility, and organizational development. His skillfulness in consortium development, analysis, and project management allows him to help clients make the most of their engagement efforts, develop sustainable internal capacity, and create value for their organizations and communities. As a Principal with Las Vegas-based management consulting firm The JABarrett Company, Mr. Dickson serves as a senior advisor and project manager for clients spanning the private, public, and social sectors. He earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he received the Dean’s Award and was selected to deliver his class’s commencement address. He also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, with a minor in Business Law, from UNLV.

Edith Fernandez, Ph.D.

Dr. Edith Fernández serves as Associate Vice President at Nevada State College, where she is responsible for building relationships with community leaders, elected and government officials, and leverages her substantial experience in the field of higher education with expertise in institutional research, student success initiatives, marketing, and organizational leadership skills. Within the Nevada System of Higher Education she has worked at Nevada Cooperative Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College as a faculty member and student affairs administrator.  She has also worked at the University of Michigan and a premiere Hispanic Serving Institution in Texas. Dr. Fernández has been a principal investigator for research projects focused on intercultural competence, intercultural learning skills, and civic engagement on a global scale.  Her most current scholarship focuses on Latina leaders in higher education. She was recently appointed to the Council for the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institute Educators and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, a Masters of Public Administration degree from UNLV, a Masters of Education degree from Harvard University, and her B.A. from University of Nevada, Reno.  

Maria Jose Gatti

Maria Jose Gatti serves as the Executive Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement for MGM Resorts International’s Corporate Operations. She is responsible for fostering and maintaining relationships with national and local community organizations. She also implements programs to help educate and engage the employees of MGM Resorts on community related initiatives, activities and issues.   Maria Jose is also the Vice President of the MGM Resorts Foundation and the former program Director for the MGM Resorts Foundation Women’s Leadership Conference, which focuses on the professional development of women of all industries. In 2008, Maria joined Luxor Hotel and Casino as Director of Guest Experience and in 2010 was appointed to also oversee the Guest Experience program for both Luxor and Excalibur Hotels and Casinos. Ms. Gatti is a member of the boards of directors of Jobs for America’s Graduates Nevada, and the First Friday Foundation. She is also a member of the College of Southern Nevada Institutional Advisory Council.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson has served as the Chief Financial Officer for the White Pine County School District for the past 20 years and has had the privilege of serving on a number of Nevada fiscal panels and funding studies to evaluate the Nevada Plan funding formula.  Most recently, he was involved on a committee tasked with repairing and simplifying the current Nevada Plan funding formula.  In 2013 through 2014 he served as a member of the Task Force on K-12 Public Education Funding Technical Advisory Committee. Through his efforts and involvement with various committees that serve to improve Nevada’s funding, he has earned several awards. Mr. Johnson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from UNLV and has a diverse background.  He is involved in civic organizations, local government affairs, economic development and youth athletics. In September 2002, he was appointed to the White Pine County Commission by Governor Kenny C. Guinn and served the remaining term through 2004.

Randall J. Kirner, Ed.D.

Randy Kirner served as a Nevada State Assemblyman for six years (2010-2016). His committee assignments included three terms on Ways and Means (Sub-committee Chair of Government Services – one session), two sessions on Taxation, two sessions on the Education Committee, and one session as Chair, Commerce and Labor.  Prior to his legislative service, Dr. Kirner served on the State of Nevada’s Public Employees’ Benefit Program for 11 years, two years as Chair. He was appointed to two terms by then Governor Guinn and was reappointed to his third term by Governor Gibbons. Dr. Kirner holds a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne in Southern California. He received his MBA from Georgia State University, an MS in Information Management from West Coast University, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Georgia, aka, The Military College of Georgia, where he rose to the position of Cadet Corps Adjutant, was a Distinguished Military Graduate and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was the honor graduate of his Army Infantry Officer’s Basic Training class. Dr. Kirner is a decorated military veteran having served five years as an army officer including a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division.  He was awarded a Bronze Star, an Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.  He also earned the prestigious Ranger Tab, Pathfinder Torch, and Master Paratrooper designation. His 35-year civilian career includes high level positions in three Fortune 500 companies:  American Hospital Supply Corporation (now Baxter), Allergan Inc., and International Game Technology (IGT).  Kirner and his wife (Peggy) have been married for 51 years and have two grown children and five grandchildren. They reside in Henderson, Nevada.

Dave Kladney

A lawyer, Dave Kladney began his career as the first in-house counsel for the State of Nevada Employees Association. Mr. Kladney was a sole practitioner for 20 years with a practice centered on civil litigation and representing disabled clients. For a brief period, he served as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of Nevada. Mr. Kladney was a five year member of Board of Directors of the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association. In addition, he was a founding member of the Nevada Festival Ballet and the Nevada Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Mr. Kladney has received frequent recognition for his pro bono work and was named Nevada Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2004. In 2011, he was appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in journalism and received his J.D. from California Western School of Law.

Debbie Leonard

Debbie Leonard is an attorney and mediator whose practice focuses on resolving land and water disputes. As a partner at long-time Nevada law firm McDonald Carano, Ms. Leonard is chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group and serves as a Nevada Supreme Court settlement judge. Before becoming a lawyer, Ms. Leonard worked for the United States Forest Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to assess pollution impacts on water and wildlife. She also taught science at the secondary and college levels.  Ms. Leonard received her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, with a certificate in environmental law. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of California, Santa Cruz and graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a bachelor’s degree in zoology.

Todd A. Nigro

Todd Nigro, in partnership with his brother Mike, owns and operates companies in the development, construction, asset management, and gaming and hospitality businesses. Mr. Nigro began his career as an entrepreneur in 1991 when he joined Nigro Associates, a commercial and residential development and construction company owned by his father, Edward Nigro. As Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Nigro was responsible for the investment, financing, and development of the properties, which were completed using a combination of investor equity and bank financing. In 2000, Mr. Nigro and his brother Mike, formed Nigro Development LLC, Nigro Construction, Inc. and Nigro Management LLC and purchased the assets of Nigro Associates’ construction and property management businesses. Through these companies, Mr. Nigro maintains contractors, real estate brokerage, and property management licenses in the State of Nevada. In addition to being active in development and construction, Mr. Nigro obtained privileged liquor and gaming licenses in Nevada and started a hospitality company that owns and operates neighborhood taverns with both restaurant and gaming components; and, is a founding member of the Bank of George, a federally insured, state chartered bank headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Nigro has served as both Chairman and a Board Member of Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas, Inc. He has also served as both Chairman and a Member of the City of Las Vegas Planning Commission, as well as volunteered his time evaluating applications for Community Development Block Grants and HOME Funds. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Business and Bishop Gorman High School. Mr. Nigro owes whatever success he has achieved to the inspiration he receives from his wife, Ryanne and his 4 beautiful children, Nicholas, Nathan, Isabelle, and Olivia.

James Thomson, Ph.D.

Dr.  James Thomson serves as special advisor for regional development to UNLV President Len Jessup. He is the former CEO of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution that helps improve policy and decisions through research and analysis, which he led as CEO from 1989 to 2011. With annual revenues of over $250 million and a staff of more than 1,600, RAND’s research programs address a range of domestic, international, and national security issues. RAND’s core competencies include health care services, supply chains, energy and environment, transportation and infrastructure, education, demography, defense, and international security. In addition to his leadership at RAND, Dr. Thomson was previously an experimental nuclear physicist and published numerous scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. He served as a U.S. government official dealing with defense and arms control matters, serving both in the U.S. Department of Defense and at the White House. Dr. Thomson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and International Institute for Strategic Studies, and serves on the board of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. He is a director of AK Steel Corp. and Praedicat, Inc. Dr. Thomson holds a B.A. in physics from the University of New Hampshire and a Master’s and Ph.D. in physics from Purdue University.