Photo By dennis myers

When he was 13 years old, Tony Lesperance went to work on a Nevada ranch. He’s been in the state every since and now owns a ranch in Humboldt County but has retired from active ranching. He now serves as director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Do you ever get the feeling that this department is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of state government?

We have our moments, I’ll put it that way. This department is involved in many things, and as you realize, the budget reductions hit this department very hard. Our budget’s been reduced down to about two-thirds of what it was. Our staff has been reduced from over a hundred full-time equivalent to less than 80, into the 70s. And the legislature in their wisdom forgot to tell us that we don’t have to continue to do what we always have done. We’re a regulatory agency primarily, which means we continue to conduct all our regulatory activities that we ever did before with about two-thirds as many people and two-thirds the money.

One of the reasons that you have a lot of impact on people is that though some things are housed in Agriculture, they’re not necessarily farm-related—weights and measures, for instance.

Weights and measures and petroleum technology are two good examples of things that on the surface would appear to have nothing to do with agriculture, but yet we’re totally responsible for both of those.

It may come as a surprise that you even exist, that there’s a Department of Agriculture in Nevada.

Well, we’re very quiet, but we touch everybody’s life every day in one form or another. Every time you buy petroleum, if you look at the gas pumps, you’ll see a little seal in the side of the pump that indicates we have calibrated that pump in the last year. We are guaranteeing that if it’s 89 octane, that’s what you’re getting. Every time you go to the grocery store, and you check through the grocery stand, and they use one of those scanners, you might wonder if that scanner’s correct. Well, we guarantee you that it is correct. We guarantee that the correct values are placed in there. We do a tremendous amount of control over food—and food that passes through Nevada—foodstuffs, we inspect innumerable agricultural products. And we make sure the people don’t steal cattle. All kinds of things.

With the cuts in people, is it compromising your ability to do your job?

No. I’m not going to let that happen. We have a mandated regulatory description [of functions] in the Constitution and then the [statutes] of the state of Nevada, and that is our charge, and we’re going to do it. We have become fairly innovative on many of these areas. We’ve had to. But we’re still doing every bit of the regulatory activity we ever did before, and I think we’re doing it not only as good as it was done before, I think in a lot of areas, we might even be doing it better.

The people who are left after the cutbacks must be under a lot of pressure.

Yes. I would say that’s a fair statement. A lot of people work over 40 hours a week and I’m not particularly interested in authorizing overtime, so if you work over 40 hours a week … you’re probably donating your time. And we have pretty dedicated people, and they’re willing to do that.

Is it having an effect on morale?

I don’t believe so. I think the morale in this agency’s probably never been higher.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...