Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017
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ODNR’s new world order faces old problems

If you haven’t gotten a new program for the “Big Game” at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, you are not going to understand who is calling the plays.

Maybe even after you have a new program you still will not know. But let’s try to unscramble some of the ODNR administrative omelette that Gov. John Kasich’s speed-of-business team has scrambled up:

In early September, Dave Mustine, who supposedly was Kasich’s go-to guy when it came to running the multifaceted ODNR, abruptly left the department after less than eight months at the helm. He was named the state’s de facto energy czar at JobsOhio in charge of fracking the state’s way to natural gas revenue, among other energy things.

Scott Zody, Mustine’s sidekick at ODNR, got the Mustine job, in the interim, while a got-to-get-it-right search went on.

Then a week ago Kasich announced that Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer would be the new DNR director, and Dr. Tony Forshey, the state veterinarian for the last six years, would be the new Ag director. Zehringer’s qualificatiions are that he formerly was a state rep and former owner of Meiring Poultry and Fish Farm in Fort Recovery, Ohio.

His appointment, announced directly by the governor’s office and not the usual ODNR media channels, was made minus the usual he’s-our-boy-and-will-do-a-great-job quotes from the Gov that usually attend such cabinet appointments.

A day later, Zehringer selected Frederick Shimp, to serve as assistant director, and Andy Ware as deputy director. Shimp is to run ODNR’s day-to-day operations.

Shimp most recently was assistant director at Ag, apparently following Zehringer to ODNR.

As deputy director, Ware is to oversee the DNR’s divisions of coastal management, forestry, geological survey, mineral resources management, soil and water resources, and recycling. He recently was Ag’s deputy director and communications director, so he too followed his boss to the DNR, where Ware at least had prior experience, having served seven years as the assistant chief of forestry and as media relations manager.

So, have we missed anybody? Oh, Zody. Same day as Shimp and Ware moved from Ag, Zody got kicked downstairs to the ODNR wildlife division, as its “new” chief. In turn, Dave Lane, the chief only since summer, was bumped down to assistant chief. Which ostensibly gives the Ohio Division of Wildlife an unprecedented three assistant chiefs — Lane in addition to Sue Howard and Tom Rowan, who were appointed in September. But as of Monday it seemed that Howard’s title was being changed, if not pay grade, as manager of business operations. Or something like that. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians, or some such.

At least with Zody, Zehringer took the opportunity to say the he’s-my-boy thing, that Zody took one for the Gipper. “I appreciate Scott’s service to the department and he has my full confidence in the critical position of chief of the division of wildlife,” stated Zehringer in the official news notice. “Scott is an avid hunter and angler and I know he’ll work aggressively on behalf of Ohioans to improve opportunities for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing.”

Uh huh. Oh, forgot about Dave Lane. He now is in charge as assistant chief of overseeing operations in the division’s five district offices.

Oh, and did we say that Ray Petering, executive administrator of fish management and research for the wildlife division, who for a spell was an acting assistant chief, is joining the ever-growing list of experienced, talented veterans who is jumping ship — because he has enough time in so that he can? His retirement is effective Dec. 31.

The foregoing would have all the comedy of an old Keystone Kops episode, were the ODNR not faced with such drop-dead serious issues that beg for experienced veteran hands instead of political newcomers still asking where the restroom is at. Consider these:

  • Dangerous exotic animals.

The Gov has ordered up a legislative remedy to be dropped on his desk by month’s end. This after the debacle last month in Muskingum County where nearly 50 big animals were gunned down by lawmen after their junk-zoo owner let them go and killed himself.

  • Lake Erie toxic algae.

A problem writ large. We’re gagging in a nasty pea-soup of blue-algae. It’s a complex problem that needs experienced, steady hands on the bridge to navigate through.

  • The state’s falling-down “five-star” parks system, more than half-billion dollars in maintenance and upkeep arrears, and counting.

The state parks consistently have been underfunded and neglected by governors and lawmakers for more than 30 years.

  • Fracking for natural gas.

Mustine, who pledged that hydrofracturing, the new answer-to-our-energy-dreams poster child for gas drilling, would be “done right,” with no open ends. But he’s gone, off to be the gas-development guru (uh, let’s read that as “maximize the profit, the hell with the public interest”).

Neither the ODNR nor the governor has yet to publicly outline how they will oversee fracking to assure that underground drinking-water sources are not ruined by drilling, how streams will not be polluted irrevocably by toxic fracking wastewater, how local rural roads will be repaired by other than taxpayer expense from convoys of heavy drill-site trucks and how local public health will be protected from air pollution from concentrations of all those diesel engines.

This goes on and on. Forestry — there is a difference between a policy of optimum cuts versus maximum cuts — is an other example.

So, you see that the ODNR is a critical agency with many arms and especially now with some critical issues with which to grapple. One can only hope that once the musical chairs game stops in the front office the individuals still with seats are the ones who care about the state’s natural resources, not some powerbroker’s bottom line.

Contact Steve Pollick at spollick@theblade.com or 4197246068

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