The politics behind the push to overhaul the state Natural Resources Commission might not be a Shakespearean comedy, but it certainly appears to be “much ado about nothing.”
After last week’s column on the subject went online, I was contacted by two people — a former commissioner and a current one — who informed me that commissioners are “will and pleasure” appointees who can be replaced at any time for any reason.
In all honesty, I didn’t realize that. The section of state Code that outlines how commissioners are appointed, and for how long, seemed to indicate otherwise.
Here’s what Chapter 20-1-16 has to say about those things:
“The commission shall be composed of seven members, known as commissioners, one from each congressional district and the remainder from the state at large, appointed by the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
“Their terms of office shall begin on July 1, and shall be for a period of seven years, except that the Governor in making the initial appointments shall designate and define their respective terms of office so that the term of one member of the commission will expire each year. As initial appointments expire, all subsequent appointments shall be for terms of seven years or for the unexpired term of a member who may have died, resigned or become disqualified.”
The Code also specifies that each of the state’s congressional districts must be represented by at least one member, and that the rest of the commission would be considered at-large members.
When Division of Natural Resources director Steve McDaniel proposed a bill to revamp the commission, he said his goal was to change the law so that each of the DNR’s six management districts would have at least one representative.
Currently, all three congressional districts are represented, but DNR management districts 3 and 6 are not.
The bill McDaniel proposed would ensure all six districts are represented. It also would change each commissioner’s term to 4 years instead of 7, and it would limit each commissioner to a maximum of two terms.
I pointed out in last week’s column the bill would give any governor the ability to clean house and appoint commissioners ready and willing to do his or her bidding. I pointed out that if an anti-hunting activist were ever elected governor, he or she could appoint a commission filled with people determined to restrict people from hunting.
That, to me, seemed dangerous. I felt the current practice of appointing commissioners to 7-year terms, with one commissioner’s term expiring each calendar year, would prevent a governor from packing the commission.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that another section of state Code gives any governor the ability to do that at any time, for any reason.
Section 6-6-4 of the state Code spells it out quite clearly:
“Any person who has been, or may hereafter be appointed by the Governor to any office or position of trust under the laws of this state, whether his tenure of office is fixed by law or not, may be removed by the Governor at his will and pleasure. In removing such officer, appointee, or employee, it shall not be necessary for the Governor to assign any cause for such removal.”
If that is the case — and it certainly appears to be — Gov. Jim Justice could simply end the terms of two commissioners and appoint two to represent the currently unserved DNR districts.
Lawmakers could remedy the unrepresented-district problem by changing the words “congressional districts” to “DNR management districts” in the Chapter 20-1-16 of the Code. If so, isn’t spending a ton of legislative time and effort to make wholesale changes to the commission “much ado about nothing?”
Perhaps one answer as to why someone might find the legislative approach attractive can be found in some of the new language Senate Bill 514 would contain, if passed:
“The Director of the Division of Natural Resources may submit recommendations to the Governor for the appointment of the commissioners.”
Why would a DNR director want such language inserted in the bill? I leave that to your imagination.