Changes at 500 Lafayette Ave.
New DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced his
leadership team Tuesday and sent Outdoor News a photo of the latest
incarnation of agency brass.
This marks the fourth time I’ve seen a transition to a new
DNR administration. Usually when a new commissioner comes to town,
the old guard leaves. This time around, the new commissioner not
only brought in his own people, but he kept many of the previous
ones. Outdoor News needs to dig deeper and determine if
the loss of other positions will balance out this staff and their
presumably hefty salaries. In an era of lean and mean state
government, however, I’ll admit the size of this administrative
staff surprised me.
That’s not to say these aren’t competent people. Very competent.
Allow me to break down some of these keys posts and appointments
that caught my eye.
Ed Boggess has been arguably one of the most
reliable people at DNR and maybe state government for as long as
I’ve been around. He’s now director of the Division of Fish and
Wildlife, a position he was born to fill eventually. I’m very happy
for Ed and know that the most important division in DNR is in good
Laurie Martinson was deputy director under Mark
Holsten and now will serve as director of the new “Division of
Operations Services.” I’ve never seen a deputy director from a past
administration keep a job with the agency, so losing Laurie after
the election appeared an unfortunate given. I say unfortunate
because Martinson is very well respected, and I agree it would be a
shame for the agency to lose her. That said, did we create a new
high-paying position with all those nifty state benefits to keep
her? To my knowledge, no one has asked him yet, but Landwehr needs
to explain why any new director position is necessary.
We have a new regional director in the Southern Region, former
Republican state senator Dennis Fredrickson, who
was a longtime friend of conservation during his time at the
Capitol. Many of us thought Fredrickson was leaving government for
retirement, but here’s betting that a shot at a nice “high-three”
salary, which secures a larger state retirement check, helped
entice him back. My cynicism aside, there’s no doubt that
Fredrickson is a nearly perfect candidate to help bridge the
sometimes large chasm between the environment and agricultural
interests in this important region of Minnesota.
Perhaps the most recognizable name on the list, Chris
Niskanen is the new DNR communications director. Niskanen
has been the outdoors writer for the St. Paul Pioneer
Press for the past 17 years. Many journalists have jumped ship
from media to public relations the past few years, and Niskanen has
known Landwehr probably since he started at the St. Paul daily
newspaper. The surprising point here is that the agency has kept
Niskanen’s predecessor, Colleen Coyne. Normally
this person leaves the agency when a new commissioner arrives.
She’ll be responsible for the day-to-day management of the
Information and Education Bureau. An often thankless job, the
communications director (read “chief spin doctor”) gets the
unenviable task of scolding outdoors scribes when they criticize
the DNR and explaining the agency’s message, good and bad, to the
public. I’ve told Colleen this to her face and I’ll say it
here: She’s done a fine job in that role, the best of any with whom
I’ve worked. Again, however, I’m surprised we need two big guns
handling these duties.
Bob Meier is special assistant to the commissioner
for legislative affairs. He’s been the man in the Capitol trenches
the past several years, and he’s damn good at it. Glad Landwehr
kept him on.
Bob Lessard, a 26-year state senator and a
long-time champion of the outdoors, also will become a special
assistant to the commissioner for community outreach. Now, this
editor made Lessard the Outdoor News Man of the Year in 2010, so
let there be no doubt about the respect I hold for this man and
mentor to many middle-aged folks, like me, on the state outdoors
scene. That said, Outdoor News will be asking exactly what
the DNR is paying Lessard and what taxpayers are getting for his
services. For the record, the DNR release says, Bob “will work with
conservation organizations and other groups around the state to
ensure that the agency is listening and responding to their ideas