Nevada Conservation Chief, Top Deputy Resigning

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Nevada conservation chief Mike Turnipseed and his top deputy, Freeman Johnson, are resigning under pressure from the Guinn administration following complaints about what Johnson termed his efforts to "establish a camaraderie" with staffers.

Turnipseed, 60, head of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was praised Friday by Gov. Kenny Guinn in a statement that noted his nearly 20 years as a state water engineer and, for the last four years, as conservation chief and member of Guinn's cabinet.

In the same statement, Turnipseed, who was earning $109,582 a year, was quoted as saying his state service had been "extremely fulfilling" and he was "looking forward to the next chapter in my career."

Turnipseed, who was replaced on an acting basis by Allen Biaggi, state Division of Environmental Protection administrator, wasn't immediately available for comment at his office or at his home.

Johnson, 62, reached at his home, said he was submitting his resignation on Monday following a meeting Friday with Guinn chief of staff Mike Hillerby who said his options were to resign or retire.

"I was caught totally by surprise," said Johnson, one of the few blacks in top positions in state government. He earned about $75,000 a year as assistant conservation director, a post he held for seven years following three years with the state Personnel Department.

"All I can say is that my efforts to be congenial and affable were not universally well-received by everybody," Johnson added. "I apparently made some enemies who complained about my management style."

"I think the term was 'creation of a hostile environment' with a handful of people."

Johnson said he recognized there was "not a lot of ethnic diversity" within his agency, adding, "That caused me to try to establish a camaraderie and congeniality with a lot of folks, and some took umbrage at it."

"I guess patting someone on the back, assuming camaraderie, was my downfall," he said. He declined to say whether that involved a female employee.

Guinn spokesman Greg Bortolin declined to comment on the reasons for the resignations of Turnipseed and Johnson, saying, "Because it's a personnel issue, I can't comment on it."