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DNR Chief Resigns

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It was the chief of enforcement. From the Star Tribune:

Top DNR officer resigns after audit reviewed

By DAVID SHAFFER, Star Tribune

September 26, 2008

Minnesota's chief conservation officer resigned Friday following an audit that found his agency misspent public money and illegally solicited donations for a game warden conference last year.

Col. Mike Hamm walked into the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources headquarters in St. Paul and submitted a letter of retirement, ending 36 years with the agency. For the past five years he has headed the division that enforces fish, game and other natural resources laws.

Hamm's retirement came a day after he was allowed to read an investigative report about himself at a meeting with DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten and DNR's personnel director, Denise Legato.

Legato would not discuss the meeting, and Holsten was out of town and unavailable for comment.

The investigative report has not been made public. But an earlier Legislative Audit concluded that a conflict-of-interest law was broken and $300,000 in public money had been misspent on the week-long event that featured a golf outing, fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, a fish fry and other entertainment.

Hamm, who is 55 and eligible for retirement, has served in the DNR since 1972, first as a parks worker, and since 1977 as a conservation officer and supervisor. In May, he and his wife, Capt. Cathy Hamm, a supervisor in the enforcement division, were placed on paid administrative leave during the investigations, which were prompted by a Star Tribune story about the conference spending.

His resignation may be just the beginning of the shakeup at the DNR. Legato said several other DNR employees face investigations as a result of the investigative findings. It's still undecided what will happen to Capt. Hamm, she said.

Mike Hamm did not return telephone calls for comment. But his friend Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said Hamm is a scapegoat who was pushed out the door -- and that high-level DNR officials deserve the boot instead.

"Holsten has said he takes responsibility, but what does that mean if nothing is going to happen to him?" said Cornish, referring to a comment the commissioner made at a legislative hearing.

Other legislators had critical words about Hamm and DNR higher-ups.

"Minnesota can't have a chief law enforcement officer who doesn't know the law and doesn't enforce it -- that's the bottom line," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, chairwoman of an environmental oversight committee that held hearings on the DNR conference spending.

"There is generally sloppy management here that needs to be fixed," added Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission. He said that top officials should be held accountable.

The investigative report by Minneapolis attorney Tammy Pust has not been released because officials say they must redact non-public information. Legislators said they had not seen the report. The redacted version is expected to be released next week, officials said.

In previous statements, Hamm has defended the conference spending and fundraising.

"It was a fantastic opportunity to bring conservation officers from North America to showcase Minnesota, but also [for] Minnesota conservation officers to walk away with excellent training," Hamm told auditors in June.

The 2007 North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association conference in St. Paul featured a week of social events and three days of training for 204 state conservation officers and about 212 of their peers from across the United States and Canada. Family members and other guests also attended.

In May, the Star Tribune reported that the DNR, which played a key role in the conference, spent public money and used state employees to plan the conference, raise money and staff the events. Auditors uncovered many more details, including that the state paid inflated registration fees for Minnesota officers and paid employees to take guests on fishing and golf outings.

Former DNR commissioner Gene Merriam has said he didn't authorize spending state money to sponsor the conference but supported sending officers for training.

Although the DNR's support put the conference in the black, the $76,000 in profits went to the state conservation officers union and the international association -- none to the state.

Hamm served across Minnesota, first as a field officer in Worthington and later in St. Cloud, and in 1988 became a training officer in New Ulm and then the statewide training coordinator based in St. Paul.

He was the district supervisor for Mille Lacs Lake in the late 1990s during the legal dispute that granted Indian hunting and fishing rights under an 1837 treaty. He also served in Two Harbors and St. Paul in other supervisory jobs before being named head of the enforcement division in 2003. His salary was $105,000 a year.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090

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Here is the story folks. These conventions are held in many states and Minnesota finally had one and tried to whoop it up like others and I guess in Minnesota its more about potatoes and water than steak and fish.

Enforcement is a tough gig and not very rewarding. It is really too bad these guys couldn't have a bit of fun without getting ramrodded by MH.

It wasn't like they all got massages, but maybe that wouldn't have been completely wrong since a few game wardens have had perch shuved in places we can't discuss.

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"Although the DNR's support put the conference in the black, the $76,000 in profits went to the state conservation officers union and the international association -- none to the state."

Anybody miss this part?

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There's so much wrong and right with this it is not even funny:

The wrongness:

- $300,000 of taxpayer money spent irresponsibly is not what my common sense mind says we should be doing when tax revenues are down and natural resources are at risk. The DNR should be ashamed. Just "because other states do it" is not a reason to waste money they could put to better use.

- $76,000 is NOT A PROFIT. It's government for crying out loud. NO PROFIT! Get it? And if it took $300,000 of tax money to "get $76,000" into the black, how can anyone even logically call it a profit? Sound like a LOSS of $224,000 to me. You can tell a lot about government and what it thinks of you, the citizen, by the language used - this tells me you are here to subsidise them and their parties, and also, apparently, the unions they sit scross the table from, too! Holy cow!

- It doesn't cost this much to run a conference if you are dedicated to what you love. I can't tell you how many rich, entertaining and fulfilling conferences and events I've been part of or helped organize that served hundreds of people on shoestring budgets. Why didn't they restrict it to CO's? Why pay for family and friends? Why Mille Lacs? Why golf - where's that under the DNR's charter? Why everyone at once - why not offer more training days to CO's on their own schedule - the state has internal online training systems. Lots of poor fiscal decisions were made in this single event - what about the other 51 weeks of the year???

- Don't feel sorry for CO's. If they are dedicated to what they do, no annual boondoggle conference is going to make or break their decision to keep doing it or not. The other 40-50 weeks per year are still spent in the field doing the work. $300,000 could have raised the salary of each MN CO by $1000-$1500 for a year. Wanna bet that there is $300,000 wasted in the DNR every year? I have no doubt it can be found. That's better money than the stumulus check handout from Bush Jr.

The rightness:

- The chief has the backbone to say he should have done better, and it was his responsibility to spend taxpayer money carefully. You don't get to just show up for work, ignore this fact, break for lunch, and collect a paycheck if you are the chief. Good for him. There is hope for honor and personal responsibility yet.

- Others are being investigated. Good. I hope they find the fire now that we have spotted the smoke. Time to raid all the rest of the state departments, too. With any luck and a little hard work, MN might not stay in the top 5% of national tax burdens, but with some of the the crappiest roads and some of the most restrictive fishing regulations.

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Yea what federline said, seriously though I really would like to get a look at that report. It just so ticks me off that the upper eschlon in agencys like this are just so blatant and we don't even know about it until something like this shows up and we find out it's been going on for years, makes you wonder what else is going on, and GEEZE LOUISE if theres any extra out there spread out amongst the co's and or equipment "THEY" need to do their job effectively. How is it we keep putting people into these positions, like federline I always hope for the best but for some reason am not at all surprised when stuff like shows up.. just my .02


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