As a master gardener, and a member of the Master Gardeners’ Advisory Council, I was in attendance, and spoke at the presentation which Marc Johnson was invited to by the Washoe County Commission. As master gardeners, we were very concerned about the plight of the University’s Cooperative Extension (UNCE) Program, which coordinates the master gardener program, along with so many others that are invaluable to our community. UNR had cut the UNCE budget by 72%, and many key staff people- including those who held doctorates in their fields (like Sue Donaldson) and the only nutritionist on staff – were shown the door. The University also combined what had been the College of Agriculture (which is required to be maintained and supported by the university in our state constitution) into CABNR, the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, and plans to hire what they call a “super dean”, with a salary of $700,000 (hey, that’s more than our football coach makes!), to ride herd over a college whose chief focus is biotechnology and not agriculture. As with his prior positions in Kansas and Colorado, this president seems bent on dismantling our school of Agriculture.
Example: He swiftly sold 165 acres of the Main Station Experiment Station (probably a violation of state and federal law) to the Regional Transportation Commission for the ill-conceived South East Connector (which doesn’t have any approvals to connect to anything), for over $7 million, which he promptly put to a nonagricultural use (paying off a portion of the equally ill-conceived fire academy debt, likely another violation of state and federal law).
Example: He petitioned the City of Reno (successfully) to get 104 acres of the most fertile farm land at the Main Station (fronting McCarran just south of the meat packing plant that it so critical to our local farmers and food locavores) rezoned to Planned Unit Development. When it was continually pointed out that this land is in the critical flood zone, he ignored the danger to life, property and livestock (lest we forget the 300 sheep who drowned there in 2005, let alone the devastating flood that hit the Eastside Subdivision and Rosewood Lakes in 1997), and simply said that UNR needed to preserve the value of the land. What a prince. And who doesn’t want their office/retail next to a slaughterhouse?
Most tellingly, Mr. Johnson did not show up as planned to a face to face meeting with master gardeners at the UNCE office after the County Commission, where, admittedly, he was grilled and pressured by the Commissioners and other attendees to account for the for one cent property tax (about $1.5 million a year these days) that is levied for ag extension (as it used to be called). (This property tax is levied in nearly all, if not all, of Nevada’s 17 counties.) Where is it going? How is it being used? Marc Johnson could not respond, except to pay lip service to the Commissioners about the University’s “mission” and to try to convince everyone that UNR is still pursuing an active agriculture curriculum. Mission not accomplished.