At the end of last Sunday’s meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, Steve McDaniel dropped a bomb.
McDaniel, director of the state Division of Natural Resources, told the commission’s seven members that his agency was preparing to introduce legislation that would change the commission’s makeup.
McDaniel said he wanted the panel’s members to hear it from him before they heard it from anyone else.
The reason for the proposed legislation, he said, was because the commission’s current makeup didn’t adequately represent hunters and anglers in at least two regions of the state.
Those regions, he added, were DNR District 3, which includes eight counties in the central part of the state; and District 6, which includes four counties along the Ohio River and six located inland from them.
Under the current state code — Chapter 20-1-16, to be exact — the commission is to be composed of one member from each of the state’s three congressional districts and four at-large members.
All of the members are political appointees. The governor makes the appointments and submits the names to the state Senate for approval. Members serve 7-year terms, and the terms are staggered so that one member’s term ends each year.
According to law, nothing is intrinsically wrong with the makeup of the current commission. Two of the commissioners are from Congressional District 1, three are from Congressional District 2, and two are from Congressional District 3.
When you superimpose those same commissioners over a DNR district map, you find that two are from DNR District 1, two from DNR District 2, one from DNR District 4, and two from DNR District 5.
As McDaniel pointed out, DNR districts 3 and 6 currently are not represented.
McDaniel’s proposed solution is to do away with the current system and replace it with the following:
The commission would still have seven members; the governor would appoint one member from each of the six DNR districts, plus one at-large member. Commissioners would serve a maximum of two 4-year terms.
Outside of that, no one seems to know the bill’s particulars outside of McDaniel and his staff. He told the commission it hadn’t yet been given to lawmakers or assigned a bill number.
It will be interesting to see how the bill, if passed, would treat the transition from the current commission to the new one. Would the terms still be staggered, or would Gov. Jim Justice be allowed to clean house and fill the commission entirely with his own appointees?
The Natural Resources Commission dates back to 1933. The lawmakers who drafted the legislation that became Chapter 20-1-16 appear to have taken great care to ensure that no single administration would be able to appoint enough members to dominate the commission.
Remember, governors back then were only allowed to serve one 4-year term. That meant no governor, even theoretically, would have more than four appointees on the commission at once, and even that state of affairs would last only until the next governor took office one year later.
If today’s lawmakers agree with McDaniel and decide each DNR district needs to be represented, I hope they have the good sense to ensure that no single governor can pack the commission with appointees eager to comply with the administration’s wishes, especially if those wishes are at odds with the interests of the state’s hunters and anglers.