Burton on the Bay:
DNR's Latest BE-Heading


It is not done well; but you are surprised to see it done at all.

-Boswell, Life of Johnson, Samuel Johnson: July, 1761.


How appropriate are those words 238 years later. Sam Johnson was referring to, among other things, a dog walking on its hind legs. Here we're referring to the July 9, 1999, ousting of Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin by Gov. Parris Glendening.

It came as a surprise. Firing had been rumored a few times over the past year or two, but Griffin is a survivor and it was figured he once again had survived. When it came, the dismissal wasn't done well, which leaves just another bad taste in the mouths and minds of those assessing the curious reign of our guv.

They were friends, the governor and Griffin. Both are students of politics, both came to Annapolis from the politically intriguing perimeter of Washington and for more than five years, the secretary administered, among other things, some curious programs fostered by a governor known for at least four things on the DNR front:

1. Continuously meddling in department affairs.

2. Ignoring the financial plight of a near bankrupt department, especially regarding its fisheries unit.

3. Shamelessly pushing for Bay projects for the benefit of business, industry and the overall economy at the expense of the Chesapeake's environment.

4. And most of all, using the department as a dumping grounds for political cronies, others due favors and still others who raise funds for his political well-being.

One would think that a DNR secretary who endured under such conditions for half a decade would be entitled to a face-to-face meeting with the boss to get the bad news. Not so last Friday, and that's why the governor is vulnerable to Samuel Johnson's criticism.

There's no class in sending a messenger. And the message was delivered as the department was winding down for the week. Some of the 1,600 employees had already gone. Many didn't know until they read it in their Saturday newspapers.

There's an old rule in politics: If you seek less impact from what would ordinarily be a startling and distasteful maneuver, break the news late Friday. Saturday papers aren't that well read, and space is limited.

It worked. The Sun had a one-column head in its Saturday Maryland section, but then again the goings on of DNR haven't been getting much ink in the big papers of late other than when Pfiesteria erupts, a fish kill is underway or it's decided ample coverage is needed to boost something like Site 104 dumping to improve shipping to the Port of Baltimore.


DNR's Dunkirk

You might say the timorous issuance of the pink slip to the secretary who previously served as deputy has resulted in a morale situation at the department somewhat akin to that in Great Britain prior to the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II. Griffin had his legion of supporters, also those who weren't, but the news went far beyond his actual termination.

It was just another reminder that the governor insists on meddling in department affairs. His presence has been obvious to most DNR personnel who dare look over their shoulders.

Guessing which political hack is going to end up with an office and plush seat at Tawes State Office Building has long been a lunchtime game. Small wonder so many career people, including some great fish and wildlife scientists, gripe that working thereabouts is like walking on egg shells. No, make that a minefield.

The new game thereabouts centers on speculation of who will take the place of Dr. Sarah J. Taylor-Rogers, who the governor moved up to secretary from her post of assistant secretary for Resource Management Service. Will it be another well connected - in all but any of the environmental sciences - DNR insider or outsider?

For well over a decade, the department so critical in the management of the Chesapeake, other waters, forests, parks, fishes and wildlife had been one in which the scientific community played a secondary role. The department is top-heavy with politicians and those with good connections. Anyone with a scientific background is challenged to work a legitimate program around political and bureaucratic considerations.


Long Gone Are the Good Old Days

Sorry, but that's the way it is. Long gone are the days when bosses Harry Hughes, Blair Lee and Marvin Mandel appreciated that in environment and natural resources management, those with a scientific background should be involved in decision making at the very top. Mandel, Lee and Hughes pretty much let the department and its scientists run the show - and we the users of our natural resources and the resources themselves were much the better for it.

But those were the good old days, days when secretaries dared to challenge governors - as Jim Coulter did when he implemented a lead shot ban in hunting waterfowl, knowing full well that Mandel, himself a waterfowl hunter and lead shot advocate, wanted no part of a ban.


So Why Now?

So what brought about the firing of Griffin, who will serve until the Taylor-Rogers takeover July 23?

Some speculate it was the apparent falling apart of the highly controversial Site 104 dumping proposal off Kent Island. Others suggest it was because of a costly failed oyster farming project. And there are some who attribute it to a failure of the department to curb gill-netting pressure on striped bass. A few cynics theorize it was a process of making room for more Glendening cronies within the department - and they back this up with assertions that Griffin's replacement is a close friend of the governor's spouse. The guv ain't talking.

And how will Taylor-Rogers do with her background not in science but in public administration? There is speculation she isn't up to holding firm on behalf of the environment against a meddling boss. Others hope, because of her close ties to that boss, more money will be headed to the financially depressed department to get something accomplished. Let's wish for the best.

And in closing, let's not overlook a curious bit of info in the news release direct from the governor's office announcing the change not long after Griffin was honored by environmental groups for his efforts.

The release read Griffin "was originally appointed in 1994 by former Governor William Donald Schaefer," but that ain't so. Highly capable and effective Torrey Brown, secretary in the early days of the Glendening administration, was squeezed out so Griffin could take over. Schaefer was long gone. Glendening was in the catbird seat.

Talk about trying to distance one's self from a situation.

Enough said...

| Issue 28 |

Volume VII Number 28
July 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times

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