Speaker trying to get attention of agencies
Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 9:09 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Fresh from the lips of Kent Williams, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, comes this heavy quote:
“The legislative body gave power to TWRA and TWRC, and the legislative body can take it away,” he said. “They need to always remember that and treat our sportsmen and legislative body with respect.”
Williams revealed his unhappiness with the Ten-nessee Wildlife Resources Agency and its parent agency, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, during an interview with The Messenger this morning.
Some TWRA and TWRC officials have expressed their concern over Williams’ instructing state Rep. Susan Lynn, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, to remove House Bill 2460 from the calendar and rules committee.
The bill would have renewed TWRA for another four years. If the bill fails to be restored and passed, TWRA would go out of existence at the end of a year.
“The speaker called me to his office and said, ‘I want you to take that bill off the consent calendar,’” Ms. Lynn said. “I said, ‘OK.’ And he said, ‘I want you to take it off notice.’ I asked why. He said he was having some difficulties with TWRA and he wanted to have some time to talk to them about these difficulties.”
According to a spokesman in the Office of Legislative Services, the bill is scheduled to be addressed April 14.
Ms. Lynn said she has no intentions of letting TWRA crash and burn. “I would never do that,” she said. “The bill is going to pass. TWRA does a very good job and their audit was really good.”
But Williams said legislators needed to get TWRA’s attention, and the bill was a good way to do it.
“We wanted to make them a little nervous,” Williams said. “Three years ago, I ran legislation to form a study committee to make some recommendations to improve TWRA.
“I just felt there was a total lack of communication between legislators and TWRA. It was very difficult to get someone to listen to your concerns. As legislators, we don’t really have a lot of control, or very little, over rules and regulations, but we still get calls from our constituents. I get a ton of them up in my area.”
Williams represents House District 4, comprised of Carter County.
“I felt we needed to open the communications. Our study isn’t finalized yet. The recommendations had happened at the time the bill was in Calendar and Rules. So I asked the chairlady (Lynn) to take it off notice until we finished our recommendations. I say, ‘our’ recommendations. I am not on that committee any longer, since I became speaker.”
Williams said state Rep. Joe McCord chairs the study committee and has some recommendations. “He wants to introduce some legislation,” Williams said. “We’ll probably need to tie it in with the ‘sunset’ legislation. I’m not sure what his final recommendations are. I should be getting that information this week.”
The committee is comprised of four House members and four Senate members.
“It’s already wound down. There won’t be any more meetings. I should get the recommendations this week and decide what type legislation we want to run,” Williams continued. “Basically, what has been suggested is an advisory committee made up of four legislators and three commissioners to look at rules and regulations and not have any official capacity to change anything. We just feel that, that way, our voice would be heard.
“We want to always make sure the (TWRC) is made up of a diversity in the State of Tennessee, in the three grand divisions, plus rural versus urban. I feel that in past years our rural communities have not had much say in what goes on at TWRA. They’re not being represented.
“There will be a couple of bills filed in the legislature. Joe McCord would be the sponsor in the House and (state Sen.) Jamie Woodson in the Senate,” he said.
Williams said there have been issues through the years with TWRA, that former executive director Gary Myers did a decent job but “that’s where the original problem started.” He said Ed Carter, the current TWRA executive director, is a friend of his and that he has spoken to Carter about problems in his agency.
Carter, he said, is doing a “decent” job.
“Our intention all along has been to make improvements to TWRA,” he said. “We’re not doing anything to hurt TWRA or to hurt sportsmen. I am a sportsman.”
Is he unhappy with TWRA and TWRC right now?
“Well, TWRA, I think, has made a lot of improvements the last couple of years,” he said. “I feel they need to do more training with their wildlife officers. The wildlife agency has become an enforcement agency instead of benefiting sportsmen. There’s some horror stories from back in my district, the way people were treated by some of the wildlife officers.
“When you take young guys, fresh out of college, and give them the authority they have, sometimes (it creates problems). In some cases. It’s a small percentage. But the power seems to go to their heads. I fish a lot during the summer. I see TWRA boats running up and down the lake with lights on, pulling boats over and supposedly doing safety checks. I don’t think anybody goes out on the lake with the intention of drowning one of their kids. It’s harassment.
“‘I’ve seen small children crying, scared to death, because TWRA has pulled the boat over for no apparent reason, just to do a safety check. I had one constituent, his boat was checked five times two summers ago. That’s ridiculous. I made a suggestion (to TWRA) and they just threw it out. I said, ‘When you do a safety check, can’t you put a sticker on the boat that says it’s good and then you know you don’t have to check it again?’
“Five times in one summer. To me, that’s harassment.”
Williams said one recommendation the study committee will make is to change the way appointments are made to membership on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission.
Published in The Messenger 3.23.10