New Hampshire Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau will be out of a job in March, the end of his third four-year term, and he’s none too happy about it.
The Fish and Game Commission voted in secret in September to oust the Portsmouth resident, saying they wanted to take the funding-beleaguered agency in a new direction. But commissioners never involved Normandeau in the discussions nor confronted him with any problems; the executive director found out from Gov. Chris Sununu well after the meeting that he had fallen out of favor with the board.
We don’t know why the commissioners decided to dump Normandeau; minutes from the September session are sealed. Commissioners are using the often-cited “personnel matters” exclusion to the right-to-know law in keeping these records from public view.
“I am well aware these jobs have a shelf life, and I have been fortunate to have been on a lot longer than others in the country, but I think I earned (an explanation),” Normandeau told Paula Tracy, a reporter for InDepthNH.org. “I think I earned that, not a lie.”
Normandeau has an advocate in state Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord, a Democrat running for governor. Feltes has filed a right-to-know request seeking the meeting minutes be made public, along with other documents related to Normandeau’s term not being renewed.
InDepthNH.org has also joined Feltes in seeking the records.
For his part, Sununu places the decision entirely with the Fish and Game Commission, which has control over the position and will make a recommendation to the governor and Executive Council on a new executive director when it finishes an ongoing search. But Robert “Moose” Phillipson, Cheshire County’s representative to the commission and its chairman, said Sununu asked the commission not to discuss the decision with Normandeau until it had been made.
Sununu has moved to replace a bunch of department heads appointed by his predecessors, and it would be in keeping with that if this is a political move. Normandeau was appointed by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, in 2008. Nine of the current 11 commissioners were nominated by Sununu, leaving only two with more than three years of experience, InDepthNH noted.
The N.H. Fish and Game Department, with its 180 employees, has become among the best known of the state’s bureaucracies, mostly because of “North Woods Law,” an Animal Planet television series, which focuses on the state’s conservation officers.
Now in its third season, the show personalizes the officers and publicizes the wide array of responsibilities for the department, including search and rescue, responding to injured animals and patrolling off road vehicles and off shore fishing. Normandeau, who also lobsters, has been featured in at least one show.
“North Woods Law” has not, however, showcased the financial situation the agency is facing. Funded largely by hunting and fishing licenses and other permitting fees that are flat or in decline, Fish and Game has struggled financially. The agency has lost a number of longtime employees in the wildlife biology and law enforcement divisions, InDepthNH reports.
Certainly the Fish and Game Commission, which oversees a $30 million budget and sets public policies, can choose new overall strategies for the department, including leadership. Still, commissioners owe the public an explanation for the decision, how the 11 members voted and why Normandeau wasn’t meeting their objectives.
“The department just has not moved forward as much as we would have liked to see it,” Phillipson told the N.H. Union Leader. “By getting a new director, we get new ideas to deal with emerging stuff.”
We’re not sure what the “emerging stuff” is, but this is a state agency with broad responsibilities, not fully appreciated by many. It has both inland and marine fishing regulations to oversee, is a law enforcement branch and is responsible for wildlife management in New Hampshire. It operates six fish hatcheries; leads search-and-rescue efforts and has a dive team; runs educational safety programs for hunters and trappers and manages ocean species ranging from oysters to striped bass.
We would all be better served if we knew why Normandeau is no longer the proper leader in the commission’s eyes, why the move was necessary and what the commission seeks in a new leader. Make the minutes public.