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Buck would stop at Gov. Chris Gregoire under her reorganization plan

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Dec. 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
December 14, 2010 5:23 pm

The plan to consolidate agencies that Gov. Chris Gregoire laid out today also consolidates the power of the governor.

Two agencies that today are run by independent commissions would move under Gregoire’s direct control, if the Legislature signs off on her reorganization plan for environmental agencies.

The governor would appoint the head of a new Department of Conservation and Recreation, replacing two directors appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission. Those boards are appointed by the governor, so she has indirect authority over the agencies.

The commissions would survive but would be stripped of their regulatory authority. They would become citizen advisory boards, providing a voice for academics, fishermen, hunters, hikers and the like, but not running the agency.

Gregoire is likely to get pushback, but it doesn’t look like it will come from the chairman of the parks board, who was favorable to the idea and said it should get a serious look.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for the current structure, but you know what, it’s not the only way to do business,” said Fred Olson of Olympia. “Having more direct control over these agencies by a governor also makes a lot of sense.”

Olson noted he was speaking only for himself, not the commission, and indeed, at least one other member had a cooler initial reception.

Pat Lantz said she’s not taking any position yet, and she likes Gregoire’s pitch better than legislation proposed unsuccessfully last winter to merge natural resource agencies. But she said the commission form of governance works.

“Parks has a very long and proud history of being an independent agency,” said Lantz, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Gig Harbor. It’s “100 percent geared to provide a service to the public. It isn’t a mixed up message at all: It’s parks and recreation.”

Under Gregoire’s plan, the small Recreation and Conservation Office, and the even smaller law enforcement unit in the Department of Natural Resources, would move into the new agency.

DNR’s elected head, Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark hasn’t taken a position on the proposed reorganization, which would also move the Department of Archaelogy and Historic Preservation into his agency.

“He’d applaud the governor for putting a big bold proposal on the table,” spokesman Aaron Toso said.

The rest of the reorganization would give the Department of Ecology responsibility for the work now done by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency and the reclaimed water program in the Department of Health. The Department of Agriculture would take over the State Conservation Commission.

Altogether, 11 agencies would become five.

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