Kirkland retires after criticism-filled assignment

Richard Kirkland will retire June 10 as Nevada's Public Safety director, ending a three-year reign highlighted by nearly constant battles with unions and high turnover among senior department officials.

Kirkland was hired in June 2000 as director of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Public Safety. DMV became a separate department following the 2001 Legislature and Kirkland stayed on as Public Safety director.

Kirkland has worked in law enforcement in Northern Nevada for 40 years, beginning with the Washoe County Sheriff's Office in 1964. He moved to the Reno Police Department in 1969 and climbed through the ranks to chief of police before winning election as Washoe County sheriff. Guinn asked him to take over Public Safety in 2000.

He has recently suffered some health problems, having complications following surgery to replace a damaged knee joint, and he recently returned to work.

"I am proud of the improvements we made during my short tenure with the DMV and the significant systems improvements we've put in place in the Department of Public Safety," he said.

Chief Deputy Public Safety Director Dave Kieckbusch will take over as interim director until selection of a new director.

As he leaves the department, only one of the 11 divisions heads in place when Kirkland took over remains -- Frank Siracusa, head of emergency management.

Kirkland has said on several occasions it was necessary to shake up those command positions to make improvements in the department.

Turnover was highest within the Nevada Highway Patrol, which saw more than a dozen of its command staff from lieutenants on up through the ranks either resigning or retiring. Kirkland also put hiring new NHP troopers on hold, saying the Highway Patrol Academy wasn't teaching them what they need to know and that courses were being redesigned.

He got into a battle with union members and then-union president Trooper Stuart Handte over his management style. After several complaints by the union about his policies, he put Handte on leave along with one other trooper over allegations they skipped out on a $2.67 pizza-parlor tab a year earlier. Handte remained on paid leave for a year.

Kirkland, 57, also drew criticism when Gov. Kenny Guinn designated his position as having "critical shortage" status under legislation passed in 2001. The legislation allows positions for which there is a critical shortage to collect both their salary and their retirement.

Critics said it was designed to keep experienced teachers in the classroom, not to pad the salaries of state administrators.

To Kirkland, that meant more than $70,000 in retirement pay a year in addition to his $107,000 salary as director, making him one of state government's highest paid employees.

While Guinn maintained it wasn't a special deal, he cut off further approvals of "critical shortage" positions after granting that status to Kirkland, Kirkland's chief deputy and several other positions in Public Safety.

Legislation to end the "double dip" passed the Assembly this session and is now before the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

In addition, Kirkland drew some criticism after it was discovered more than 50 old NHP vehicles were improperly released to Storey County and other local governments for free. Although the transactions happened while Kirkland was director, he and Public Safety officials pointed out they were authorized by the Nevada Attorney General's Office before Kirkland took over.


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