Volume 15, Issue 4 ~ January 25 - January 31, 2007

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Welcome Back John Griffin

DNR’s new leader has his own past record to live up to

Don’t burn your bridges behind you; you might not come up with enough lumber to rebuild them.

—Old country saying

John Griffin didn’t burn any bridges behind him less than a decade ago when then-Gov. Parris Glendening canned him as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. Therein lies an example for others caught in the swirl of politics. Never hit a man when he’s down.

He might get up.

Griffin, on the outside at least, accepted his firing as another footnote in the rough-and-tumble game of politics. As I recall, one of the first things he said after his removal was that the governor has a right to name his own people, his own team.

Cheers All Around

The other night, I was a few minutes late at a rockfish and yellow perch meeting. I was signing in at the security desk when I heard loud applause from the lower floor meeting room. I tried to figure what could be going on; nothing to celebrate on the yellow ned and striper scene these days.

In the room, I instantly realized why the celebration. When I sat down, the man at my left had a familiar face and lots of white hair. The room — packed with members of the Sportsfish Advisory and Tidal Waters Fishery Commissions, the Ad Hoc Striped Bass Committee along with DNR staffers, stakeholders and even the press — was paying tribute to the guy in the neighboring seat.

Next to me was John Griffin, the Comeback Kid, recently appointed DNR Secretary for the second time. In a way, I should not have been surprised that John was there, though confirmation of his appointment was yet to come. He and past Secretary Torry Brown were the only secretaries I have seen who made it a point to attend all meetings of importance to the department. John was an involved secretary; he wanted to know what was going on.

And I’ve covered all the secretaries since DNR was formed. After J. Millard Tawes was governor, he took over the job in grand style by appointing staffers who were truly professionals. Jim Coulter was followed by Torry Brown; Griffin, the first time around; Sarah Taylor-Rogers; Charles Fox; and Ron Franks.

Nor should I have been surprised at the applause; John was popular among DNR’s commission members, the department’s staff, fishermen as well as hunters, and other environmentalists.

Welcome back John Griffin. We’re pinning our hopes on you to turn things around.

Guv, Let the Man Be

I hope Martin O’Malley appreciates your talents enough that he promised you authority to run the department with no meddling — no more dumping into the science-based-department hacks who wouldn’t know a microscope from a periscope, as has been done since Don Schaefer was governor. Also, no more cutting staff due to lack of funding.

We’ve had enough of the Bob Irsay-type administration; remember when he owned the Baltimore Colts how he would name a coach, then call the plays, pick the players, tighten the budget and fire the coaches when they didn’t win? Such has been the record of the past two governors.

But look how the old Baltimore Colts have turned things around as the Indianapolis Colts in a better environment; good fans and good players thanks to funding. John Griffin can be our Peyton Manning, both good quarterbacks.

John has more going for him on his return. He knows the legislators and the legislative process, and he’s a convincing lobbyist. Maybe, just maybe, he can convince the solons that if DNR is to produce what they (and we) want, it must have funding to do the job right.

Nothing wrong with the last secretaries, Taylor-Rogers, Fox and Franks. They were expected to produce, but weren’t provided the funding. The department has one of the best staffs anywhere — and one of the worst budgets anywhere. A mixture of fire and water.

Back at the Helm

John Griffin comes back with a department worse than he left it (who’d have thought that possible), but not because of staff (or what’s left of it), but because there have been insufficient funds from a stingy legislature and administration. His challenges are many.

He is a professional. He knows the department and staff, and he should, seeing that he was around more than 17 years, including seven as secretary. He listens to advice, has an inquisitive mind, and one of his priorities in his previous tenure was to build staff morale and partnership — so he has a good management style.

He doesn’t tolerate fools, and he can have a short fuse. We had a few tiffs in his previous administration, as when I wrote vigorously and often against opening a special early catch-and-release rockfish season on the Susquehanna Flats. I figured it a mistake; fishing so close to spawning grounds sent the wrong message on striper conservation with a moratorium just lifted.

John figured it offered additional fishing opportunity and that it wouldn’t impact stocks. He implemented the program, and thus far it seems he was on the mark. I played it too conservatively; John was the visionary, as usual.

Larry Simns, head of Maryland Watermen’s Association, and Sherman Baynard of CCA-MD, both tell me they’re pleased with Griffin’s return. Simns went even further. “Nothing could have pleased me more. I’m delighted,” he said. Also pleased is the third big player on the water. Rich Novotny, director of Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen’s Association says, “I’m excited; John can do the job.”

When you get all sides in agreement, how better can the prospects be?

Finish what you started, John — before you were so rudely interrupted. Enough said.

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