Politics & Government

Ky. Fish and Wildlife Commission takes no action on leader's contract

FRANKFORT — The governing board of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources met behind closed doors for nearly two hours Friday but took no action on the contract of Commissioner Jonathan Gassett.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, has pre-filed a bill for consideration in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly that would provide more oversight of the department that handles hunting, fishing and wildlife management in Kentucky.

Last month, a legislative oversight committee did not vote on the renewal contract for Gassett after questions arose about other possible investigations into the department.

The Government Contract Review Committee voted to table Gassett's contract after it was revealed that some members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the department's oversight board and Gassett's employer, had not voted on the contract. It included $134,000 in base pay, an additional $50,000 in benefits and other payments, with the total not to exceed $218,000.

Legislators expressed frustration and confusion about why the committee had never approved or seen Gassett's contract and questioned whether the department was under investigation by other agencies.

Asked about the status of Gassett's contract, chairman Stuart Ray of Louisville said "I have no comment; we are in the middle of discussing that."

Ray said he expects the commission will return to the contract issue. "We just didn't vote on it today," he said.

The commission's next scheduled meeting is Aug. 16.

Yonts, who has raised questions about the commission, has pre-filed a 19-page bill that would allow the governor, not the commission, to appoint the department's commissioner.

The commission also would be subject to the administrative authority of the secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. The commissioner and the department's staff would have to submit at the end of each quarter a detailed report about the department's finances and activities to the Legislative Research Commission.

"It has become quite obvious that the department needs more oversight," Yonts said.

Fish and Wildlife receives no state General Fund money. It is supported by sportsmen — through fishing and hunting licenses — and federal funds.

The nine members of the commission are appointed by the governor from a list of potential candidates provided by sportsmen.

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