Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

June 19, 2013

Does Kentucky’s top sportsman have a boss?


June 19, 2013 —     Like some other media organizations in the state, we’re troubled about recent developments in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

    The agency is unique in state government because it receives no general fund support and operates entirely on revenue from fishing and hunting licenses, other fees and federal grants.

    KDFWR is a state agency with an annual budget of about $40 million, upwards of 500 employees, enforcement authority for the state’s wildlife laws, and management responsibility for about a million acres of public lands.

    The most troubling question to come to light recently is exactly who is responsible for this state agency?

    It has a major impact on the lives of our citizens but it apparently does not answer directly to any elected public official.

    Some legislators were shocked at a recent committee meeting when, for the first time, they got to see the lucrative employment contract of Commissioner Jonathan Gassett, KDFWR’s chief executive officer.

    His base pay is $134,000 annually. He gets another $50,000 in benefits. Other rewards cannot take his total compensation above $218,000.

    If you’re curious, Gassett’s compensation package is close to what we pay Gov. Steve Beshear, who is responsible for all of state government and about 30,000 state employees.

    Recent legislative and media scrutiny apparently resulted from complaints that his current salary deal was approved only by the chair of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission and not by the full, nine-member panel.

    The commission, by the way, is appointed by the governor from sportsmen nominated by fish and game organizations in nine regions of the state.

    The plain truth is that KDFWR is overseen by this appointed board and not by anyone who must answer to voters and taxpayers.

    Why is oversight important?

    It was widely reported last year that Gassett had $71,000 in travel expenses between 2008 and 2012, more than any other individual in state government.

Members of the fish and wildlife commission now are limited to two, four-year terms. Earlier, many served as long as 20 years.

    Some in the General Assembly want to confirm the governor’s appointments to the commission, as they do for other key boards and commissions.

    This situation clearly is a disconnect between the executive and legislative branches of state government.

    In our view, hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who buy hunting and fishing licenses and use public lands are entitled to the best management of those resources.

    As the politicians like to say, this old dog just won’t hunt.