A Washington State Conservation Commission staff investigation found no grounds to remove two more Thurston Conservation District supervisors who had clashed with two others who were ousted.

The commission may discipline Paul Pickett for his part in a 70-second, profanity-laced exchange with then-supervisor Eric Johnson at a board meeting in October.

But Pickett's actions, as well as those of board ally Doug Rushton, did not amount to neglect of duty or malfeasance, according to lead investigator Kirk Robinson.

The investigation was in response to complaints last year by then-supervisor Richard Mankamyer. He and Johnson already had been accused of misconduct in a separate commission probe.

The commission removed Mankamyer and Johnson from office Feb. 20 after a hearing. The commission concluded the two had mistreated staff members and hindered district operations.

Tensions between board factions erupted Oct. 30 during a discussion over whether to accept a grant. Johnson left the meeting after the heated exchange initiated by Pickett.

The investigation found "behavior potentially considered unprofessional," but it did not qualify as neglect of duty or malfeasance.

The commission, however, will consider at its Sept. 19 meeting in Walla Walla whether to issue Pickett a "letter of concern" or order him to take an anger-management class.

Pickett said those options "resemble using a baseball bat to kill a gnat," in a written response to the commission.

He said the outburst was a one-time event at the end of a marathon meeting. In an interview Friday, Pickett said none of the options were that onerous, but not needed unless there's another incident.

Pickett apologized to Johnson and the rest of the board shortly after the October meeting.

"I feel like, sure, it's unprofessional to curse and say bad words and get upset with a fellow elected official," he said.

Robinson's investigation found no merit in Mankamyer's other complaints.

The investigation defended Pickett's right to criticize the actions of the board's opposing faction. "There are numerous examples everyday where elected and appointed officials state their thoughts and views on social media," according to the investigation.

The investigation also cleared Pickett and Rushton of violating the state's public meetings act by making public comments in an executive session.

The probe found Pickett and Rushton felt obligated to disclose their view that the closed-door meeting veered into a personnel matter that should have been discussed in an open meeting.

Johnson and Mankamyer attributed conflicts on the board to their attempts to hold staff members accountable for spending and policies.

They are suing the state commission in Thurston County Superior Court alleging that they were denied due process in a hearing that was too informal for removing public officials.

Recommended for you