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December 8, 2010
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Nevada prison director to retire

(AP) - Howard Skolnik, who has hinted for years that he would rather quit as director of the Nevada Department of Corrections than jeopardize the safety of staff in light of budget cuts, announced his retirement Wednesday.

"My wife finally consented to having me home for lunch," he quipped.

Skolnik, 66, has been with the agency for more than 23 years and was appointed director in 2007 by Gov. Jim Gibbons. He began his career in 1965 as a prison guard in Ohio.

"I just got the weight of the world off my back," Skolnik said when contacted by The Associated Press. He will leave by the end of the month.

He said the upcoming legislative session and more rounds of budget cuts weighed on his decision.

"I do not think that I can walk in and out of the next session and leave this department safe," he said. "With so many demands and so few resources, it's not going to be fun anymore. When it's not fun anymore, it's time to leave."

He added, "It's time for somebody else to sit in the seat. And it's time for me to clean the garage out."

Skolnik has pushed for closing the 140-year-old Nevada State Prison, a move he said would save taxpayers $3 million a year. Parts of the prison date back to the 1860s, and Skolnik said some cells have no running water. Doors to those cells are left open so inmates can access bathroom facilities.

Though the proposal was backed by the Republican governor, it was rebuffed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and the state Prison Board, comprised of the governor, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Miller and Masto are Democrats.

Skolnik he has met with Republican Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval and members of his staff, and said he believes his agency will "do OK" under proposals the incoming governor talked about.

"It's going to be up in the air though, because obviously the Legislature will have final word on what does or doesn't happen," Skolnik said.

Nevada lawmakers convene Feb. 7.

Sandoval has said he will not release details of his budget blueprint before his Jan. 24 State of the State address. But he's called for reducing spending to 2007 levels, and the Economic Forum, a panel that projects state revenues on which the budget must be based, has forecast the state will have $5.3 billion to spend in the upcoming two-year cycle that begins July 1, 2011.

That's $1.1 billion below existing spending levels, while agencies have submitted $8.3 billion in funding requests.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Dec 8, 2010 02:10PM Published Dec 8, 2010 01:31PM Copyright 2010 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.