Tuesday, December 4, 2018

DeWine nominates Ohio DNR director; reaction both swift and positive

Perhaps something of an enigma to many sportsmen, the nominee to become the next director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is far from an unknown to those individuals whose careers are intertwined with the agency.

Governor-elect Mike DeWine did not even have to go far from his office as the current Ohio Attorney General to find his selection by naming Mary Mertz as his Natural Resources Director nominee. She is currently serving as DeWine’s First Assistant Attorney General, responsible for overseeing “both the legal and administrative operations of the (Attorney General’s) office,” her official bio says.

Mertz will need confirmation by the Ohio State Senate; a sure bet given that the Republicans handily control that assembly. Plus, Mertz has a long – and her supporters say – distinguished governmental calling.

And likely one that will almost certainly include being very protective of her boss. Her official bio says Mertz also served as then-Lieutenant Governor Mike DeWine’s Chief of Staff. In that role Mertz “focused on the administrative areas of criminal justice, law enforcement and substance abuse,” the bio says.

And during the then-Voinovich’s administration, Mertz “both developed the administrative agenda for and served as the Governor’s liaison to eight state agencies in the environmental, natural resources, and criminal justice areas,” the bio states.

Mertz also worked as Legislative Director for Congressman Bob McEwen, and in the Office of Legislative Affairs in The White House.

To those in the outdoors community who know Mertz, such credentials go a long way in explaining that she has the political and administrative professionalism to both support the Natural Resources Department as well as articulate DeWine’s marching orders for the agency as a whole as well its offspring.

What is unknown for now is Mertz’s hands-on knowledge – if any – about Ohio’s various outdoors pursuits.

I crossed paths with her when I was Chief,” said Mike Budzik, retired chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife and a member of the “Sportsmen for DeWine” political action group that formed to help the Attorney General move up the executive branch food chain.

At that time she was Governor Voinovich’s environmental policy person. The issues were the dove statewide referendum and perch bag limit restrictions. In both of those issues our recommendations ended up being supported by the Administration.”

Budzik says be believes that Mertz wilI bring a strong knowledge of what is sound environmental policy to the forefront of the Natural Resources Department.

In addition to her background she will be a player “working with the legislature regarding development of a more solid budget for all the Divisions within ODNR,” Budzik said.

Agreeing that Mertz champions a solid understanding of government policy as it relates to natural resources is Paul Palagyi, executive director for Lake Metroparks in Lake County.

During the Voinoich Administration, Palagyi worked side-by-side with Mertz as advisers to the-then governor. Each person also was employed later by DeWine before their paths diverged.

Mary will make an exceptional Natural Resources director; she’s hard-working, smart and talented,” Palagyi said. “I believe Mary also has a passion for the issues, and her job will be to run the agency.”

Not to be forgotten, Palagyi says, is that he would expect Mertz will be loyal to DeWine, a prerequisite of any Natural Resources director in order to implement a governor’s agenda.

The ODNR has a great staff of professionals, and I believe this will make a great team,” Palagyi says.

Hopeful as well is Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Taylor-Miesle congratuated Mertz on her nomination, noting the Natural Resources Department directorship plays a “critical role” that is entrusted “with the health of our state’s public lands, wildlife areas forests, and waters.”

And one that is essential in protecting Ohio’s natural legacy now and into the future, Taylor-Miesle says.

The Council looks forward to working with Director Mertz, as we both advance efforts for healthier air, land, and water for all who call Ohio their home,” Taylor-Miesle said.

And effort to contact Mertz has been made but a response was not received at the time of publication This story could be updated should additional information become available.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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