New DNR secretary brings respect for citizens, resources

Preston Cole listens to concerns from the public at a Natural Resources Board meeting earlier this year. (Photo by Tim Eisele)

What can people expect from Preston Cole, the new secretary of the Department of Natural Resources?

His track record working for the city of Milwaukee for 27 years may offer a hint.

As Cole was leaving in early January, the city gave him a “going away” sendoff, and comments from those who worked with him couldn’t have been more glowing in how he managed people and issues.

City aldermen and city employees described Cole as a consummate professional and a true public servant. They said he stressed excellent customer service from city employees, no small chore with 2,500 employees under his direction. They expect Cole to “bring back critical thinking” to the DNR.

Understand that Cole is not the political appointee of the past. He has natural resources credentials with a degree in forest management, and he worked for the Missouri Conservation Department. He has served on the Natural Resources Board for 12 years, where he gained a good understanding of the DNR, and has seen its warts.

An example was his concern at the December NRB meeting where the DNR had issued a letter of non-compliance to a farmer, but had no way of rescinding that letter when it was learned the farmer was not “guilty.” The farmer drove all the way to Madison to complain and Cole realized the letter was a “knock” on that farmer’s brand. He and other board members let the DNR know it needed to do better.

He also took note when a Kewaunee County citizen made trip after trip to appear before the board because manure was reaching her drinking water, and there was little response from the DNR.

What stood out during Cole’s time on the NRB is that he expects the DNR to treat people with respect and to safeguard the state’s natural resources.

We can expect that to continue.

Categories: Wisconsin – Tim Eisele

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