Tuesday, January 4, 2011

WED UPDATE: Wildlife Division chief Dave Graham, other heads, axed

This blog posting was updated, corrected, Tuesday evening and again Wednesday around noon with material supplied by governor-elect John Kasich's press secretary, Rob Nichols.

David Graham has until Friday to clean out his desk at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Fountain Square headquarters in Columbus.

Friday marks the end of Graham’s tenure as chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The departure comes at the behest of in-coming governor-elect John Kasich who takes office Monday.

Graham was notified Monday via a letter circulated by the in-coming Kasich administration. Also given their pink slips were Ohio Division of Forestry chief Dave Lytle and Division of Soil and Water chief David Hanselman, an agency official said.

Asked if Graham's indictment status contributed to his dismissal, Kasich's press secretary Rob Nichols said that the charges "didn't help" the departing chief.

Also, currently not only is Graham’s job vacant so too are both of the agency’s assistant chiefs' positions. Each of these assistant chief vacancies are due to retirements, though former assistant chief Randy Miller is one of five felony-indicted current or former Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

Besides Miller the other top agency officials under indictment are Graham; Todd Haines, District 5 (southwest Ohio) director; the agency's law enforcement supervisor James Lehman, and the agency’s human resources manager Michelle Ward-Tackett.

All five were charged last spring in Brown County Common Pleas Court with two felony counts each and as argued by Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little.

Their cases are now pending before Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals as requested by Little following a successful defense presentation before the Brown County Common Pleas Court.

In discussing Graham's status and governor-elect Kasich's plans for the Wildlife Division, Nichols said the matter was of one administration replacing another.

"Non-classified employees are political employees and that's not just with the ODNR but with all state government," Nichols said.

Nichols said also that the in-coming administration team hopes to fill the vacancies "sooner rather than later" in an effort to "modernize that department."

"We hope there will be an announcement shortly," Nichols said.

Asked to comment on rumors that the new Kasich administration will go outside the Natural Resources Department or the Wildlife Division to secure a new agency chief, Nichols said he too understands that "there's a lot of chatter out there."

"We want to get the right person in the right spot," he said. "When we're ready to announce that decision we'll do it."

A telephone call has been placed to Graham seeking comment.

This blog will be updated as any additional information may become available.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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