Former Oklahoma state conservationist to seek legal action against Agriculture officials

Author:
Updated:
Original:

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two months after Darrel Dominick’s departure from his federal job as Oklahoma’s top conservationist, the accolades are still coming his way.

Dominick, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, was the featured guest at the Nov. 4 luncheon and meeting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission where he received a Governor’s Commendation presented on behalf of Gov. Bran Henry by Jeannette Nance, the governor’s liaison to the commission.

“In appreciation of your six years of exemplary service as the State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oklahoma, your visionary leadership in the conservation of Oklahoma’s natural resources and your tireless commitment to making the State of Oklahoma a better place to live,” the commendation said.

Dominick chose an early retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in September rather than accepting a forced demotion and transfer to Texas or the termination of his employment that was ordered by Undersecretary Mark Rey.

Rey’s actions were in response to a report Dominick was asked to produce in which he recommended that the agency should be “transparent” in addressing questions from state officials regarding a $500 million shortfall in conservation technical assistance funding that was supposed to go to the states over the past two years. Dominick had worked for the USDA for 28 years.

In an e-mail Nov. 16, Dominick said he is exploring legal action against the federal agency.

“I plan to continue to challenge USDA/NRCS and the officials involved with this situation. I am consulting counsel about future litigation,” Dominick said.

Meanwhile, he said he is relaxing, regrouping and looking to the future.

“I’m exploring several career opportunities that have captured my imagination. I’m also looking at forming a family business and building something for our daughters to run one day. We are disappointed about ending a career in this manner, but know we have lots of support and new challenges to meet,” Dominick said.

The governor’s commendation was not the only award Dominick received at the meeting. The OCC also presented Dominick with its own commendation by George Stunkard, OCC chairman.

“For unsurpassed leadership as the NRCS State Conservationist in Oklahoma, your commitment and unwavering support of Oklahoma’s 88 conservation districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, championing the outreach of conservation programs to all citizens of the state, and most of all for being our friend these past six years,” the commendation said.

Dominick said he was surprised and pleased by the event.

“It was a great honor. It brings some closure to my family’s conservation work. I am a third-generation employee of NRCS. We had over 90 years of service. My goal was to serve enough years for us to have a century of conservation work to our name,” Dominick said.

The state’s conservation community expressed outrage in August when Rey’s plan to oust Dominick from his state conservationist job surfaced. The Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, state Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach and a number of agricultural organizations wrote to the USDA opposing the decision. Rey’s reason for the attempted demotion and transfer was that Dominick was not “effective” in working with conservation partners in Oklahoma.

The conservation partners said Dominick was targeted for political retaliation.

“Mr. Dominick has been an outstanding leader in natural resource conservation in the state. He has worked closely with our state agency to ensure that Oklahoma’s land managers receive the best possible conservation services. For the undersecretary to say that Mr. Dominick has not worked effectively with his principal state partner is outrageous,” George Stunkard, chairman of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, said at the commendation ceremony.

At the November meeting, conservation leaders and the governor’s office took the opportunity again to express their appreciation for Dominick’s “outstanding service to the state.”

“Mr. Dominick was committed to working with Oklahoma’s 88 conservation districts. He believes in locally led conservation where conservation district board members set the conservation priorities in their communities. There was not a more committed conservationist in this state than Darrell Dominick. His leadership will be sorely missed,” OACD President Dan Lowrance said

Clay Pope, OACD executive director, expressed his appreciation to Dominick for his service to Oklahoma.

“Darrell is the third generation of his family to work for the conservation service in Oklahoma,” Pope said. “He knew the importance of conservation to the state and worked tirelessly to ensure Oklahoma was a leader in the national conservation movement. When Darrell chose the option of retirement, Oklahoma lost the best NRCS state conservationist in the United States,” Pope said. “It was fitting that Governor Henry and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission recognize Mr. Dominick’s service to the state of Oklahoma.”

NRCS spokesman Doug McKalip responded to an e-mail seeking comment on reports that Rey and Merlin Bartz, Dominick’s former immediate supervisor, were resigning from their jobs.

“Merlin Bartz [Regional Assistant Chief at NRCS for the Central Region] has told some employees of his intention to pursue other endeavors, effective on or about the beginning of February ’07. He has served with USDA for about five years. With regard to our Under Secretary, he continues to serve everyday focusing on the quality of our natural resources and the environment. I have heard of no change there,” McKalip wrote.