Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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ON: Can you give a “for instance?”

Garber: I don’t think you can have first-line supervisors who
don’t see their personnel for weeks or months. That’s unacceptable.
You have to know what they’re doing. We have an arrangement with
the State Patrol and a good radio system that operates through the
State Patrol dispatchers. We have to have the conservation officers
checking in, so we know they’re working and know we can reach them
by radio.

ON: So they don’t do that now?

Garber: Not like they should, I don’t believe. They do to some
extent, but not the way they should. Here’s the issue as I picture
it. Some don’t picture it this way. Some say this is trying to make
a city police force out of conservation officers. That’s not it at
all. There are many deputy sheriffs who operate in rural
environments just like conservation officers. There are troopers
who operate in rural environments. So you can be accountable. You
can tell your supervisor when you’re working and what you’re
doing.

Whether you’re in Outing, Minn., or in downtown St. Paul, you
can tell your supervisor. And you should. We should have the
ability if we the lieutenant or the captain or the major or the
colonels or myself see a major problem and we want to direct the
resources there, we should know who can go there, when they can go
there, and so forth. It’s not impossible. It is more efficient. As
resources in the DNR shrink, it’s not just enforcement, but we’ve
got to look at all these divisions and bureaus to be much more
accountable and therefore increase their efficiency.

That’s a hard thing for them to swallow. I know a lot of these
conservation officers say, “We know what we have to do and when we
have to do it, and we’re out here all by ourselves. Let us do
it.”

ON: Are there enough of them?

Garber: No, there are not enough conservation officers.

ON: How many should there be?

Garber: That’s impossible to answer; I don’t know how many there
should be. I think that the way you do that, if you can, you have
gradual increases and you measure by reports and stops and
citations, and warnings and accidents, all these indicators, and
you increase a little at a time. Even police departments don’t know
for sure how many cops they need. You do this by measuring and
expanding in increments, but I’m afraid that’s not going to
happen.

ON: Because of the Legislature?

Garber: Money. Budget.

ON: So in terms of accountability, you’re saying that with the
state trooper at the remote station or the deputy on the far side
of the county, their departments know when they’re on duty?

Garber: That’s right. I think they do. If they don’t, shame on
them, they ought to. Everybody works for somebody. From me on down,
we all work for somebody. So somebody will tell us what to do. And
you do it. You have your input, you say what you think, you get
your chance I do, everybody does and then you do it. You don’t say
why you can’t or how you will get around it. You do it, that’s all.
Sounds simple, huh? It isn’t.

ON: Minnesota has many conservation and environmental groups.
Are they are as effective as they could be?

Garber: Yes, they’re tremendously effective. They lobby and
influence very effectively. They’re very powerful. They have strong
voices all of them. Some have more effective lobbyists than others.
They’re all strong, powerful voices. Don’t underestimate them. I
did.

ON: Do they work together as well as they should?

Garber: No. They work together some, but not as well as they
could. Here are the dynamics of it. If it’s an important issue and
there are opposing sides, when the DNR makes a decision one way or
another, then those who don’t agree use their influence at the
Legislature and they have considerable influence. Sometimes they
use their influence inside the DNR, too, and they have considerable
influence there as well. They try to either cause legislation to be
passed that counters DNR action or causes the implementation of the
decision to be either slower or more difficult. So I don’t for a
moment underestimate their influence, and that’s why I’ve spent an
awful lot of my time with these various groups as issues come
up.

ON: Is the public well served by all this influence?

Garber: I don’t know if I really have a gut feeling answer to
that. I always felt like the DNR exists for a reason. The public,
the governor, and the Legislature give us jobs to do. We should do
it, and then they should hold us accountable. And if we don’t do it
to their satisfaction then they ought to get rid of us or make laws
to make sure that we do something different.

But they shouldn’t be running or doing the workings of DNR, and
I’m afraid that’s what this influence sometimes means. Now that
sounds like a statement a bureaucrat would make, that I’m
anti-citizen. That’s not what I’m saying. The Legislature makes the
policy and they appropriate the money and that tells the DNR what
to do and how much you have to do it with. The DNR is then supposed
to do it.

It’s like the governor told me, he said, “Al, you run the DNR
and I’ll hold you accountable,” and that’s exactly what happened in
the four years. Well it doesn’t always happen that way. There are
lots of forces exerting their influence. It gets pretty
complicated.

That’s why I’ve told DNR employees, “You’re not going to
influence whether or not there are interest groups. You’re not
going to influence how legislators choose to pass laws based on
their interests. So what you should do is do your job the way you
think you’re supposed to do it. If a law comes and says you can’t,
then change.” That’s why I haven’t spent four years complaining
about any groups.

ON: Your administration opposed the “3/16ths” dedicated funding
initiative when it was introduced in 2000, and has since come out
with “Half Cent for Nature” proposal. What are your thoughts on
dedicated funding?

Garber: We didn’t come out against 3/16ths. What I said was, I’d
like to know where this money goes and how it gets to where it
goes. I want to make sure, if it’s 3/16ths of a cent for every
dollar of sales tax revenue, that the money actually gets to where
it’s supposed to go. A few people shouldn’t have control over such
a large amount of money. That’s what the objection was. And then it
got to specifics.

That’s what I told the governor, and he agreed with me, and the
governor said he wants to see more. How is the money going to get
to where it’s supposed to go? Now the lottery-in-lieu money, most
of it was going to the General Fund for years. Nobody knew that. I
wasn’t against 3/16ths. I wanted to make sure it was done right.
Second, while I’m an advocate for the DNR and what we do, I’m also
a realist and a citizen. Dedicated funding is tied to the sales tax
revenue and the economy. That’s good. More sales tax revenue, more
money goes to the DNR. It’s stable, it’s solid. The economy doesn’t
do so good, less money goes to the DNR and all state agencies. The
other side of the coin is for the governor and the Legislature to
decide: Where does dedicated funding end? K-12? Health care?
Natural resources? Corrections? I don’t know. So I’m not sure
myself.

I think we should advocate for a good dedicated funding plan and
make sure it’s well done. The Half Cent for Nature sounded like a
good plan, it replaces the General Fund money the DNR now gets with
sales tax revenue money, so it’s a wash, in terms of the money,
because the replaced General Fund money goes back to the General
Fund. The money from the sales tax that was going to the General
Fund doesn’t, it goes to the DNR. What it does is stabilize things.
It’s constitutionally dedicated, but the Legislature still has to
appropriate it, so it’s not automatic, but it can’t be used for
other things.

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