Springfield — DNR’s new director spent his first two weeks on the job meeting with each of the agency’s 16 divisions – first steps in a process he and the state’s hunters and anglers hope will instigate progress.
From that fast and furious rush out of the proverbial starting gate, Wayne Rosenthal hopes to slow DNR’s downward spiral by establishing a new org chart and re-aligning many top-level positions at headquarters.
“In the past, some of the deputy director roles didn’t make much sense, and my goal is to get better use out of the people placed in those type of jobs,” said Rosenthal, who was chosen to lead DNR after new Gov. Bruce Rauner dismissed former director Marc Miller.
Rosenthal, of Morrisonville, was elected in November to his third term as state representative for the 95th District, a post from which he has since retired. He is also retired from a career as brigadier general with the Illinois Air National Guard. Rosenthal remains active on his family’s farm in the central part of the state.
At age 64, some may wonder why he is choosing to take on the challenge of re-building DNR at time when it is in both fiscal and program chaos.
Rosenthal pointed out that “retirement” is literally a relative term in his world.
“My dad is 88 and didn’t retire until he was 86, so my age isn’t really part of it for me,” he said. “I plan on being here for a long while. I plan on being here long enough to fix DNR and beyond that.”
During his January meetings with the agency’s various divisions, the topic of budgets and cutbacks were common. DNR has seens its budget slashed in half – from more than $100 million a dozen years ago to roughly $40 million at present. Adding to the woe is the fact that the upcoming fiscal plan is expected to take a hit due to the Jan. 1 sunset of a special state income tax that dropped the rate from 5 percent to 3.75 percent.
Still, Rosenthal hopes to improve the agency’s bottom line by increasing revenue and is looking for ways to do so both internally and externally. DNR is a revenue-generating entity because of permit and license sales. Also, divisions such as Mines and Minerals could produce more revenue if managed more efficiently.
Another issue that Rosenthal will be faced with almost immediately is one of staffing. The Division of Wildlife lost its chief at end of 2014 when John Buhnerkempe retired. The Division of Fisheries has more than a half-dozen staffers and managers who are at or approaching retirement age.
The World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta is also getting a close look by the new director. The site, built by the state and opened in 2006, is an asset that has not be utilized to its potential, Rosenthal admitted. Last fall, under Miller, DNR put out for bid requests for public entities to manage the site.
Rosenthal isn’t sure if DNR will continue down that path, saying it is a resource DNR should utilize in some way.