Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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OH: Graham out as wildlife chief

Columbus – David Graham has been asked to leave his position as
chief of the DNR Division of Wildlife.

Friday, Jan. 7, marked the end of Graham’s tenure, a career that
has spanned 34 years. The departure comes at the behest of incoming
governor-elect John Kasich, who took office Jan. 10.

Graham was notified Jan. 3 via a letter circulated by the
in-coming Kasich administration. Also given their pink slips were
Division of Forestry chief Dave Lytle and Division of Soil and
Water chief David Hanselman, an agency official said.

Asked if Graham’s indictment status contributed to his
dismissal, Kasich’s press secretary, Rob Nichols, said that the
charges “didn’t help” the departing chief.

Also, currently not only is Graham’s job vacant so too are both
of the agency’s assistant chiefs’ positions. Each of these
assistant chief vacancies are due to retirements, though former
assistant chief Randy Miller is one of five felony-indicted current
or former Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

In addition to Miller, the other top agency officials under
indictment are Graham; Todd Haines, District 5 (southwest Ohio)
director; the agency’s law enforcement supervisor, James Lehman,
and the agency’s human resources manager Michelle Ward-Tackett.

All five were charged last spring in Brown County Common Pleas
Court with two felony counts each and as argued by Brown County
prosecutor Jessica A. Little.

Their cases are now pending before Ohio’s 12th District Court of
Appeals as requested by Little following a successful defense
presentation before the Brown County Common Pleas Court.

Vicki Mountz, a longtime Division of Wildlife administrator, was
named acting chief on Jan. 10. Mountz, 59, becomes the first woman
to hold the division’s top job.

“The only thing I can say is that we’ve had a rough year and we
want to see our people back on the right track,” Mountz said.
“We’ve been on hold for a year now and it’s time to move
forward.”

In discussing Graham’s status and governor-elect Kasich’s plans
for the Wildlife Division, Nichols said the matter was of one
administration replacing another.

“Non-classified employees are political employees and that’s not
just with the ODNR but with all state government,” Nichols
said.

Nichols said also that the incoming administration team hopes to
fill the vacancies “sooner rather than later” in an effort to
“modernize that department.”

“We hope there will be an announcement shortly,” Nichols
said.

Asked to comment on rumors that the new Kasich administration
will go outside the natural resources department or the wildlife
division to secure a new agency chief, Nichols said he too
understands that “there’s a lot of chatter out there.”

“We want to get the right person in the right spot,” he said.
“When we’re ready to announce that decision we’ll do it.”

For his part, Graham issued an internal memo to his colleagues
within the Division of Wildlife. The statement reads in part as
follows:

” … As most of you are probably aware of by now, the new
administration has elected not to retain me as chief of the
Division of Wildlife,” Graham wrote. “I will be retiring from state
service at the close of business on Friday, Jan. 7. I ask each of
you to embrace the new administration, the changes, the ideas, and
direction that it will bring and to not fear this transition.
Change is healthy. It can offer so many opportunities and
challenges that will create new partnerships and alliances. The
potential to find new and different ways to fund our mission,
provide greater service to our constituents, and utilize our
natural resources responsibly are almost limitless due to your
collective vision and passion. The Division of Wildlife is an
incredibly strong organization, a team member of a very important
group of divisions that are the DNR. Never forget that fact. You
will always be more effective in accomplishing your mission as a
part of that team.

“2010 has been a tremendously difficult year for you,” Graham
continued. “It may well be one of the toughest periods of time that
the division has ever endured. Your professionalism, dedication and
your commitment to your chosen field of endeavor has proven that
you have the ability to survive and overcome any adversity that you
are faced with now and in the future. I am so proud of all of you
in what you have accomplished for the people of Ohio. I have
enjoyed a fantastic 34-year career with this agency. Few people
ever get the chance to spend their life doing what they love,
working with the best people in the business, and make the lifelong
friendships that last beyond a career. It has been an honor and a
pleasure to serve with you.”

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