By Paul Chesser
A former North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources employee, who was celebrated by liberal groups and the media for her acerbic resignation in September 2013, used her taxpayer-funded time and email account to complain with colleagues about the state’s new Republican political leadership – and obsessed over beer.
SHE LIKES BEER: Susan Wilson quit her state job and ultimately started studying beer-making.
Susan Wilson, who was an environmental engineer for 24 years and ended her state employment in the Swannanoa regional office for the Division of Water Quality, was said to have “resigned in style” by Raleigh TV station WRAL, and was lauded for the exemplary way she quit her job – with a YouTube video link to Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” – by leftist website Daily Kos. Her confrontational missive, sent to DENR Secretary John Skvarla, caught the attention of many other blogs and media as well.
“I’m all about customer service (as the majority of employees in DWQ are, and have always been),” Wilson wrote to Skvarla, “but that just seems to be a smokescreen for a very extremist republican (sic) agenda.”
Indeed, both in her time at DWQ and in her message to the secretary, Wilson mocked Gov. Pat McCrory’s agenda to transform his environmental regulatory agency’s reputation into one that serves and partners with businesses, as opposed to one that emphasizes punishment.
“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),” Wilson told Skvarla upon her departure. “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.”
That was the final, public blast, which leftist groups and media eagerly amplified. But while on the job, using government resources on work time, Wilson also expressed her distaste for public policy overhauls undertaken by the governor’s administration and the new Republican leadership in the General Assembly.
Wilson’s criticisms began to appear in her emails in April 2013, only four months after McCrory took office and the Legislature returned to work after the historic November 2012 election. One example cited a forwarded email from a US EPA employee to a NC DENR colleague, which linked to an article about Rowan County legislators who introduced a resolution that sought to undermine federal courts’ authority over states’ rights to address religious issues. The Rowan Couty Board of Commissioners has been under fire by the ACLU over prayers delivered before meetings. Wilson was unsympathetic.
A TARGET: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory Wilson was mocked by Wilson for his agenda to transform the environmental regulatory agency’s reputation.
“Good grief! And I thought our politics could not get worse than SC’s – I’m about to stand corrected,” Wilson ranted on a Thursday morning at 10:01 a.m. “The only thing keeping us from being worse right now is Mark Sanford!!”
Then she added, “It is unbelievable to me how stupid our state politicians are now (and..yep…I have no problems having this in an email ‘cause it’s true).”
“Welcome back to the idiocy of our current state,” replied Wilson friend Coleen Sullins, a former director of the state Division of Water Quality. “Sad isn’t it. I used to tell people we were much more progressive than it might seem. Now it is much more regressive. It is outrageous!”
Later in April 2013 Wilson griped about a directive that all media inquiries go through DENR’s official communications office.
“Is that the way it should be handled when the press happens to be on-site at the same time you are?” she emailed. “Seriously?”
Wilson’s contempt for her new bosses only increased when the retirement of Division of Water Quality Director Chuck Wakild was announced on June 7, 2013. As former DENR official Robin Smith explained, the McCrory administration was “frustrated” with the division over complaints about excessive regulation and poor customer service. Upon Wakild’s announcement, a DENR spokesman said his departure had been planned for a while and that he was glad Wakild stayed for the transition, but the move was followed by some reorganization that included a merger of the Division of Water Quality with the Division of Water Resources, to be led by DWR Director Tom Reeder.
That didn’t sit well with Wilson either, who sent a number of email missives about the changes to sympathetic colleagues, on June 7:
- “Hmmmm….i feel some ugly wranglings went on. Gonna get my resume together!” she wrote to Sullins, who preceded Wakild in the DWQ role, at 10:16 a.m.
- “Bad, bad news for us,” she wrote to another friend at 10:31 a.m.
- “Not that I don’t like Tom Reeder – but it doesn’t sound good whatever went down with this. Gonna get my resume together now just in case!” she wrote to Toya Ogallo, a colleague in the Division of Water Resources, at 10:34 a.m.
- “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! now we’re really doomed (nothin’ against Tom – just not liking how that went down),” she wrote to Connie Brower, a colleague in the Division of Water Quality, at 12:47 p.m.
On some communiques Wilson’s colleagues joined in the grumbling. Apparently referring to a fellow employee, Brower informed Wilson that “Dianne needed meds … she was about to panic.” She also said, “Staff here are so wound up – we will never get any work done!” Wilson responded with, “Ain’t nothing much getting done here this morning either,” and then noted that she had texted updates to another colleague as well.
And there was this from Ogallo: “This whole thing doesn’t exactly leave me feeling warm and fuzzy either :/.”
Wilson and Ogallo continued their grief sharing a week later, as Reeder began to hold meetings with DENR managers about the coming changes, which they dreaded.
“It ain’t good – so I heard as I talked to someone yesterday,” Wilson emailed Ogallo at 10:08 a.m. on June 13. “Definitely going to brush up the resume and see if someone can put a good spin on me!”
“Yeah, I heard it was really bad too…,” Ogallo replied. “Scary stuff. It’s really confusing….”
The following day, after a meeting in which she had been informed about the coming changes, Wilson told Ogallo in an email, “Omg – that was so incredibly bad. We’re in for tough times – never heard anything like it in my entire career (and I was here for a Republican administration before).”
Wilson’s rants became more angry and partisan as 2013 progressed.
“If you have been watching the Colbert Report or The Daily Show, you will have heard a lot about our legislative agenda in the past few months,” she wrote to an out-of-state friend on June 21st. “Our (governor), and both houses are (R)epublican and they are on a mission to wipe out any progressive legislation that has ever existed in NC, including environmental issues. It is really, really bad.”
Upon receiving notice in mid-July 2013 about a recognition program called the Governor’s Awards for Excellence, in which state employees were to nominate colleagues, Wilson answered a snarky comment from Brower with her own: “Gov(ernor)’s award for excellence ― laughed my ass off when i saw that! Really? I so want to just send a scathing message back….”
And perhaps in the most revealing comment she made about her political worldviews, Wilson told a friend about her experience at a Moral Monday demonstration, in which far-left interests led by state NAACP President the Rev. William Barber have protested the broad policy changes by McCrory and the Republican leadership in the General Assembly.
“Rev. Dr. Barber was very inspirational last night at (Mountain) Moral Monday ― had not heard him speak before (other than through news interviews),” Wilson recounted on Aug. 6, 2013. “Great turnout yesterday. Apparently ― Sen (or he may be Rep) (Moffitt) (Buncombe County) ― who is really pushing to strip Asheville of every autonomy because he has grudge ― tried to get up on stage and speak! The nerve of that guy. He was soundly rejected.”
If Wilson found work unbearable because of the new Republican administration, there was a refuge in which she found solace: beer. As she communicated with friends and fellow workers, suggestions to meet and commiserate over malt beverages were a repeat theme:
May 24, 2013: Circulation between Wilson and DENR pals Keller, Tim Fox and Jeff Menzel of a spreadsheet that outlined who would attend which nights of a beer festival (Email subject line: “Oh yeah! Beer week schedule”)
NOW THAT’S A BEER: A massive beer brewing tank is loaded onto a trailer in March 2013, heading for the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s facility near Asheville, N.C.
June 7, 2013 (when Wakild resigned): Wilson emailed Ogallo, “Maybe I’ll just retire and go get my beer brewing certification and hope for a job at one of the new breweries!”
June 21, 2013: In email to three friends Wilson wrote, “Wish you guys were here to drink a beer with me!”
July 3, 2013: Email to friend at 4:06 p.m. said, “We’re leaving the building now to go drinkin’”
July 17, 2013: Email from Keller to Wilson for Thursday night movie entertainment that includes “free beer”
July 26, 2013: Email exchange with DENR colleague, Sue Homewood: “We really need to have a beer soon!” Reply from Wilson: “Beer!! I’m going to be calling that work product soon!”
Among her passionate expressions for beer, Wilson hinted at a special affection for brewing company Sierra Nevada, which is building a brewery in western North Carolina. Apparently under her regulatory territory, Wilson mentioned in a June 28, 2013 email to a DENR colleague that “Sierra had a little incident (not much – just some gravel deposited in stream by visitor entrance bridge). Want to go check that out and also see how their construction is going.”
The following Wednesday she reported to another DENR co-worker that she “Went out to Sierra Nev(ada) on Monday ― lookin’ good.” Showing that she was tracking Sierra Nevada’s progress closely, she told a friend who was departing from Asheville to look at the brewery “to the west of the runway” as she flew over.
The day after she praised Barber, Aug. 7, 2013, Wilson emailed one of her DENR group lists at noon to notify recipients of her retirement, effective at the end of the month. As she did, in supplemental messages, she told colleagues she couldn’t stay any longer:
- “It’s time for me to go – can’t bear witness to this.”
- “You just wouldn’t believe what is going down around here.”
- “It’s just so bad right now. But I knew I was about to become a very, very angry employee.”
“I hate to do it to ya’ll,” Wilson wrote to her entire list, “but it seems like the right decision for me to make now (and I’ve had to do it quickly ‘cause I’ve got some irons in the fire for the future!).”
What were the “irons?” Unsurprisingly, Wilson planned to return to school to learn how to make … beer.
“Filed the paperwork already ― starting brewing classes over at Blue Ridge (Community College) in a couple of weeks,” she told one co-worker.
Anticipating the educational experience, Wilson updated DENR colleagues two weeks before her departure about what lay ahead.
“This is fun! … The guy teaching the brewing, fermentation and distillation course is really, really good and knowledgeable…. There will be field trips on Fridays!”
A week later she informed an environmental consultant, “Going to the new brew school at Blue Ridge Community College! (and hoping to get a job with one of the new breweries afterwards).”
On Aug. 29, 2013, the day before her last one at DENR, Wilson sent a final farewell to a list of co-workers. Appropriately it ended with, “Hope to see you in the Asheville area in a different capacity (like over beer!).”
The following day, Friday, at 4:26 p.m. Wilson hit “send” on her final critical missive to Secretary John Skvarla. As she did so, she also sent copies to her DENR employee list, to News & Observer graybeard political reporter Rob Christensen, to Charlotte Observer environmental reporter Bruce Henderson, and to far-left pundit Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch. She didn’t mention beer this time.
It wasn’t reported ― probably because he didn’t alert the media ― but Skvarla responded to Wilson. He emphasized how he found that most DENR employees have embraced the customer service mission, want to be helpful, and that he desired to recognize them for it. He directly addressed Wilson’s cynicism.
“Rest assured that treating our customers with respect ― respecting their time, their passions, the resources they have put into their projects ― is no smokescreen,” Skvarla wrote. “It is the grease that turns the twin gears of protecting the environment and growing the economy. It is the right way to run any organization and the right way to live one’s life.
“But it is not a good fit for everyone. I wish you luck in retirement.”