BOWMAN: Resignation leaves management vacancy at IDNR, but it’s field staff that needs help

Written By BY DALE BOWMAN For Sun-Times Media Posted: 02/09/2014, 02:45am

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is down another chief.

How it lost him might be embarrassing, but the loss itself might be good, something the department could afford.

That’s the important takeaway from the resignation Thursday of deputy director Travis Lloyd. His resignation came shortly after a Fox-32 investigation found he was using sick time to fish in competitive bass tournaments. After messages left for IDNR director Marc Miller, spokesman Chris McCloud called.

‘‘In this case, when information came to light, we acted quickly,’’ McCloud said. ‘‘The employee since has resigned. We accepted this resignation.’’

Lloyd’s resignation reduced staffing at the top of the IDNR to a more manageable level of a director, a chief of staff and one deputy director. The assistant-director slot remains open, and so do two deputy spots.

Asked about whether those spots would be filled, McCloud said: ‘‘I think it is a matter of what is the need at the time.’’

He said he didn’t know who was responsible for overseeing Lloyd or whether his particular deputy spot would be filled.

There are bigger questions than the misbehavior of one deputy. For many of us, the most important thing that happened when Pat Quinn took over as governor was that his first move was to install Miller as the head of the IDNR. It seemed important both as a gesture and practically. Miller was the first wildlife professional to head the agency since Brent Manning left shortly after the beginning of Rod Blagojevich’s reign.

But mutterings soon started from field staff about the padding of office staff in Springfield: a director, a chief of staff, an assistant director and three deputy slots. That’s not to mention the lawyers being stockpiled. That’s absurd in an agency shrunk to a shell of itself.

Field staff, who labor on, resort to gallows humor, joking about all the chiefs while they are down line staff.

Take fisheries, for example. Fisheries has hired eight in the last two years but has lost 17 during the same time frame, said Mike Conlin, the retired former fisheries chief.

Worse, the Illinois Fisheries Management Fund, created under the DNR Sustainability Bill, had more than $1.7 million as of Friday morning, and the thought was that money would go to fill 10 positions. Fisheries submitted paperwork in July, according to Conlin, but nothing has happened.

The bigger question is whether it is salvageable in a year with a gubernatorial election. The IDNR has done some notable good under Miller, including getting the Sustainability Bill through, but the padding of top staff is a bad counterbalance.

‘‘It is salvageable,’’ Conlin said. ‘‘But to build the department, it has to be partnership. You have to have the trust of the majority of the public. What they want is the comfort of a promise kept. That just hasn’t happened.’’

Trust is a tricky thing, easily lost and hard to regain. That trust will be restored a bit if those top positions are left vacant until more field positions are filled.

‘‘It is a position they don’t need, and they don’t need to refill it,’’ Conlin said. ‘‘They need to fill it in the field.’’

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