DENR employee resigns in style, cites 'extremist Republican agenda'

Posted September 4, 2013

— After almost 25 years at the state's environmental regulatory agency under five different governors, Susan Wilson called it quits last week – and she wasn't shy about the reasons.

In response to a Labor Day weekend note from Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla, Wilson sharply criticized his new direction for the agency, which Skvarla has said should be focused on customer service.

"Between your inappropriate mission statement, the dismantling of the Division of Water Quality, and HB74 (along with a few other gems from this session's NCGA), I see no reason to continue here – because my own mission – to assist all citizens and protect those that don't have a voice, would be compromised," Wilson, who worked as a water quality regulator based in Asheville, wrote.

She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

House Bill 74 is sweeping regulatory reform legislation that, among other things, relaxes many landfill operation rules.

DENR Communications Director Drew Elliot said Skvarla plans to respond to Wilson privately, but the note won't have an effect on the department's new strategy.

"Nothing's going to change in our mission statement based on one person's email," Elliot said.

Outgoing employees of DENR say morale is low at many of the departments, such as the newly restructured Division of Water Resources. The division merged with Water Quality this summer, and that ongoing reorganization means some employees will lose their jobs.

In July, Water Resources Director Tom Reeder gave his employees an ultimatum: Change the legislature's perception of the division or face more interference from lawmakers.

"We're only getting a six- to nine-month reprieve, and we've got to get out ahead of this problem, and we've got to do it now," Reeder said in the video message. "We don't have any choice about this. By next spring, we have to have turned our public perception around."

Skvarla's Labor Day note was actually congratulating staff on their progress toward changing that perception over the last eight months.

"I just received a customer quote saying, 'This is the way government is supposed to work,' and another that said, 'This very large ship is turning on a dime,'" Skvarla wrote. "We are just beginning to make positive things happen at DENR, and it is all because of you!"

That didn't sit well with Wilson, who accused Skvarla and Reeder of pushing out good people and dismantling environmental programs to benefit permitted polluters.

"I'm all about customer service (as the majority of employees in DWQ are, and have always been), but that just seems to be a smokescreen for a very extremist Republican agenda," Wilson wrote in the message, obtained by WRAL News last week.

With almost 4,000 employees, Elliot said it's not surprising that some disagree with the secretary's choices. 

"By and large, we have seen a tremendous response among the rank-and-file to the emphasis on customer service," Elliot said.

He also pointed to survey results published in late June that show a 20 percent improvement in customer service ratings over 2011. Almost 60 percent of that survey, according to a release, were permit holders and consultants. Environmental advocates and government employees were among the 371 people surveyed, but the release doesn't say how many.

The complete survey and methodology have not yet been released.

As for morale, Elliot said there's bound to be uncertainty and insecurity at an organization undergoing structural change. Managers and division directors are focused right now on "making sure we have the right people in the right places," he said.

But he attributed the expertise and experience of DENR employees for the changes the department is already starting to see.

"You don't get to that point – to turn an organization around on a dime – without the assistance of the employees," Elliot said. "The senior leadership can't do that. It's the rank-and-file who have stepped up."

Wilson ended her missive with a special nod to those rank-and-filers – a YouTube supercut of office worker meltdowns set to Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It."

Read the letter and view the video below.

Dear John,

Thanks so much for the note regarding Labor Day - you have always been timely with these, unlike some of your predecessors.

You and I are going to part ways today. I had a great "gig" here in the regional office - I had a great boss, great co-workers, I was still learning a good bit, and the good days were always outweighing the bad days. I was pretty certain (after my first 5 years) that I could outlast any administration the governor could appoint. I had no problem with the Martin administration - he was a man of science and no extremist.

Between your inappropriate mission statement, the dismantling of the Division of Water Quality, and HB74 (along with a few other gems from this session's NCGA), I see no reason to continue here - because my own mission - to assist all citizens and protect those that don't have a voice, would be compromised.

I was a good regulator - I had a bit of distrust for both sides of the aisle - which made me regulate evenly and with common sense and fair judgment. Over the past 24 years I've had the privilege to have worked with some of the most intelligent, articulate, and respected environmental scientists and engineers - I'd put them up against my friends in the private sector any day of the week. But the disdain for them (and me) by this administration is too much to bear.

When you pushed our reasonable, right-leaning WQ Director out, I knew we were in trouble. When you guys (and they are mostly guys...) pushed out a very thoughtful and judicial Environmental Management Commission chair, I knew we were moving into a sand pit that we weren't going to dig out of easily. When you, along with your "great Tom Reeder", decided to cleave off the stormwater programs and move it to Land Resources, who have never been trained for such..nor do they much care about WQ, I knew it was time to leave. I'm sure the 401 Water Quality program is next (especially since you said we should be more like TX and SC).

I'm all about customer service (as the majority of employees in DWQ are, and have always been), but that just seems to be a smokescreen for a very extremist republican agenda.

Likely there will be some uptick in the business environment in the next few years (mainly because the economy has started to recover from the disaster your friends on Wall Street created). But when the hot summers and the drought years come back, and we get fish kills again, and maybe there's fracking going on in the sandhills - it will be the fine folks at DENR who will get blamed for the chaos. The politicians and their appointees, that did the dismantling and created the chaos, will be long gone. We know the drill.

For my brothers and sisters in the Division of WATER QUALITY (the so called "seat warmers") who don't have the option to be able to move on, due to various obligations and a destroyed economy, let me leave you with a video I pilfered from the internet 'cause I didn't have the tools to make my own.

You can view this while I gather up my toothbrush and grab my loincloth to start heading out the door.




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  • westernwake1 Sep 6, 2013

    Is it time to bring up the fact that Susan Wilson's water quality group approved the permits in record time for the politically connected Cannonsgate project at the coast.

    Hopefully people remember the Cannonsgate case in Carteret County - you know the project that got many Democratic donors locked up in jail. And this is just one of the environmentally questionable decisions were made by the DENR under Democratic politicians in the last decade.

    "In the middle of the last decade, Cannonsgate got caught up in a corruption investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley, N.C.-D, and colleagues. In 2005, Easley bought a lot in the development at a discount.

    In 2010, former Easley aide Ruffin Poole was indicted on more than 50 federal counts, including extortion, bribery and money laundering over accusations he benefited financially while helping expedite coastal developments."


  • jackjones2nc Sep 6, 2013

    Thom "ALEC" Tillis and Pope/McCrory are bringing great harm to NC citizens.

  • naturegirl Sep 6, 2013

    Pirate01:'Other states are exploding with jobs and tax revenue from oil/natural gas exploration and fracking.'

    You may have hit the nail on the head when you used the word exploding. Google Pennsylvania fracking water quality issues and read about their water quality from the fine work done by the upstanding fracking companies operating in their state. I assume you support fracking and plan to apply for one of the wonderful fracking jobs that will be brought to our state, either because it pays so well or because you have the skill set necessary to do one of these jobs. I shake my head at all the folks posting here who spout their political ideological slant based on their opinions, not on well founded information or facts. These ideas are no more than cut-and-paste rhetoric repeated from the ideologues they worship at any number of questionable news and blog websites.

  • rguerra49 Sep 6, 2013

    Thank you susan for showing how DENR has devolved and become Nothing like it was in previous years. I also agree 150% with EVERYTHING SHE WROTE. All the criticism from people who know nothing about what employees do to protect the water quality in NC. 10 years ago I took a posistion with DENR as an NPDES permit writer and learned a LOT from susan and enjoyed working for her until she moved to the Asheville region. Susan is a consumate professionsl who deserves NONE of the stupid ignorant tyrants from people who do not even identify themselves - yet ramble about things they know nothing about. I was one of the lucky ones who say this collapse unfojding and got the ____ out. I worked and busted my rear, was the top permit writer for three years and when I left recieved not even a good bye from my supervisor Jeff Poupart, who is a fellow Veteran. Funny thing thought Jeff had us attend a farewell lunch for a college summer intern. Pitiful moral boostar. This shows how the divide has

  • beaupeep Sep 6, 2013

    Bliss200: If you're so unhappy you should follow Susan's example.

  • rasengineers Sep 6, 2013

    "Susan is one of the lucky ones who can leave a job where the management does not respect or supports its staff." - Bliss200

    Agreed. Lack of respect and support for staff has become a recurring theme in many state agencies. A theme the people of North Carolina will eventually suffer the consequences for in environmental debacles, health and safety disasters, and depletion of human resources.

  • wlbbjb Sep 6, 2013

    John Skvarla will someday leave his position a much richer man. It's all about the money and lack of integrity.

  • Krimson Sep 6, 2013

    Love the video!

  • Bliss200 Sep 5, 2013

    People who do not work for DENR do not understand how disrespectful and demeaning the Skvarla administration has been to the staff here in the agency. Skvarla's first act as Secretary was to create a mission statement in which he called staff "bureaucratic obstacles of resistance."
    That one phrase sums up pretty clearly how he views us. He has yet to meet with any of us and yet he has time to speak at the John Locke foundation and play lots of golf.

    Susan is one of the lucky ones who can leave a job where the management does not respect or supports its staff.

  • notkidding Sep 5, 2013

    "Git-a-Rope" Ha-ha, is that you, Bev Perdue??