In last week's column I covered some of the faults and weaknesses that are ingrained in our state's top level positions due to the political "payback" appointments that occur each time a new administration takes power. Rather than the most qualified person being appointed to head up the various agencies and departments, it usually means the ones who've been the most helpful and supportive in getting the gubernatorial candidate elected that get the nod, and their qualifications for the position often matter far less.
When Eliot Spitzer was stumping for the governorship, his record as State Attorney General was quite impressive, and that record, along with his promises to improve economic conditions upstate, was largely what got him the votes north of the Lower Hudson. He also indicated his displeasure over the way the Department of Environmental Conservation had been run under the Pataki administration, which helped him get the outdoor enthusiasts' votes. What a difference a couple of months make. Spitzer's appointment of Pete Grannis as Commissioner of DEC smacks of political payback and unfortunately would place a person with ties to animal rights and anti hunting and trapping organizations in the driver's seat of DEC.
With the abundance of highly qualified appointees – many of them from upstate – who fully understand the importance of insuring the DEC properly manages our natural resources, Spitzer had several choices. Instead, he appointed a career politician from Upper Manhattan who has questionable natural resource management knowledge and minimal experience in the fish, wildlife, habitat and forestry programs that are so valuable and critical to the state. In the state Assembly since 1974, Grannis' main accomplishments were passage of the state Environmental Quality Review Act, the state's first bottle bill, the brownfield cleanups of contaminated former industrial sites, and legislation barring smoking in public places – all exemplary but not exactly qualifications for overseeing game and habitat management or inland fisheries programs. Spitzer also appointed Judith Enck – his longtime environmental adviser and also the Executive Director of Environmental Advocates – to the position of Deputy Secretary for the Environment. Like Grannis, Enck's expertise appears to be primarily in the environmental quality and preservation arenas and not in natural resources management. Since its inception in 1970, when it replaced the old NYS Conservation Department, the multifaceted DEC has experienced a trend that saw increasingly more logically qualified commissioners and deputy commissioners replaced with political appointees with questionable credentials for the positions they held. Simply put, the vast majority of these appointments were largely "rewards" for supporting the incoming administration during its bid to gain office. The steady line of appointed DEC commissioners has generally exhibited an alarming lack of natural resource management knowledge or interest, but rather depended on professionals below them for that advice and guidance. Unfortunately, that advice and guidance were often ignored. This has been especially true in the divisions responsible for managing fish, wildlife, forestry and habitat.