Updated: In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, DENR Secretary Donald van der Vaart announced that Tom Reeder, former director of the Division of Water Resources, will succeed Mitch Gillespie as Assistant Secretary for the Environment.
Gillespie will serve as department liaison in the Asheville Regional Office and will become DENR's "first director of western outreach, working to strengthen environmental efforts in Western North Carolina and ensure the concerns of citizens, local governments and the regulated community are being heard," according to the statement.
Mary Joan Pugh, a veteran DENR employee who works for the North Carolina Zoo, will serve as the interim Secretary of Natural Resources. The DENR statement says Brad Ives resigned from his position as Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources "to pursue other interests." Pugh will serve until a permanent replacement for Ives is named.
The new Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of the Environment and Natural Resources was sworn in just two weeks ago and already he's busy making changes to the Department's leadership.
Donald van der Vaart, who replaced Secretary John Skvarla after Skvarla was selected to head the state Department of Commerce, made the replacements. Both Ives and Gillespie were appointed under Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration and began their terms in January 2013. Van der Vaart served as DENR’s deputy secretary and energy policy adviser before he was appointed Secretary.
Molly Diggins, the state director of the North Carolina Sierra Club, says the changes are troubling given that both Gillespie and Ives have a lot of experience and have been responsive to the public in the past, amid widespread criticism of the Department’s policies.
Diggins says their departures will be a loss to the embattled DENR.
“It is highly unusual and unexpected to have this kind of change with a new Secretary,” Diggins said. “You expect it with a new administration but not mid-term. The question is, what does it mean for the direction the administration is going in the next two years?”
Diggins says environmentalists will be watching to see how deeply the divisions
under the Environment and Natural Resources will be affected.
Check back with the INDY's news blog for updates on this story.