JACKSON, Wyo. — Reassignments being forced upon National Park Service executives continue to cause early retirements, the latest being the employee tapped to take over the Intermountain regional office in Denver.
Lizette Richardson, superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, was recently asked to lead the agency’s Denver office, which oversees Yellowstone, Grand Teton and dozens of other national parks in eight states. But Richardson — like the regional director she was to replace, Sue Masica — rejected a transfer ordered by Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department, and will instead end a long career of working for the federal government.
“She notified her employees yesterday that she plans to retire,” Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover said.
Both of the options presented to Richardson — leading the Intermountain office or retiring — “she thought were fantastic,” Vanover said.
The Jackson Hole News & Guide broke the story Wednesday about Masica’s retirement, prompted by a rejected reassignment to the Park Service’s Midwestern regional office in Omaha, Neb. Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk is in the same camp and will retire in September after a distinguished 43-year career, rather than accept a transfer to Washington, D.C.
After being informed of his reassignment, Wenk announced he would instead retire in spring 2019. However, Acting Park Service Director Daniel Smith rejected that plan, telling Wenk he’d be out of a job by August if he didn’t take the reassignment, according to The Washington Post. The park has clarified that his last day will be Sept. 29.
Grand Teton National Park’s superintendent, David Vela, is rumored to be on his way out, though not because of an involuntary reassignment. National news media reported this month that Vela is the Trump administration’s pick to direct the National Park Service, a post that’s been vacated since Jon Jarvis stepped down in January 2017.
Richardson, Masica, Wenk and Vela are in the Park Service’s Senior Executive Service, the agency’s uppermost echelon. The high-profile officials are paid at least $185,000, but they can be moved with 60 days’ notice without explanation.
Jarvis has been critical of how the Interior Department has handled the Park Service’s executive shake-up.
“There’s no sort of logical good for the Park Service or the government here,” Jarvis told the News&Guide this week. “Moving them out of their current jobs really doesn’t make any management sense. I think it’s just a power play on the part of the (Interior) department to say that they’re in charge.”
The reassignments reportedly included at least seven executives, but they have been neither publicized nor explained. They were instead leaked to The Washington Post.
The shuffle outlined by The Post sends Midwestern Regional Director Cameron “Cam” Sholly west to Wyoming to lead Yellowstone. Wenk, Masica and Richardson — the three other reassigned Park Service officials with ties, or prospective ties, to northwest Wyoming’s parks — are all opting to retire.
Richardson has been superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area since 2015, and she’ll step away after 28 years of federal government employment. Her retirement date has not been determined, Vanover said.