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Flap results in delay of vote on nomination for Joseph Gill

2/13/14 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

MARYLAND— A dust up between the Maryland Waterman’s Association and Department of Natural Resources Acting Secretary Joseph Gill over a bill proposing changes to the rules governing the state’s fishery management policy has apparently led to the withdrawal of the legislation and the delay of a vote on Gill’s nomination for secretary of the agency.

According to a Feb. 6 statement by Delegate Michael McDermott, tempers flared between Gill and Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, outside the House Environmental Matters Committee on Jan. 29. The committee was considering SB 145/HB 145, a bill that proposed changing DNR’s notification practices in a way that would officially allow the agency to continue to issue certain directives without legislative action.

A legislative analysis of the bill pointed out that current DNR plans and proposed conservation and management measures must be adopted by regulation and thus are subject to legislative review. McDermott said, in recent years, DNR officials have changed certain regulations by simply providing public notice, to avoid the need to bring these changes before the General Assembly or to the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee when the legislature was not in session.

”The Attorney General recently told the DNR that they do not have the authority to bypass the legislative branch,” McDermott said.

 The proposed legislation would have officially codified the agency’s authority to make policy changes —which would include opening or closing fishing seasons, modifying harvestable areas, or changing catch limits — by public notice in as short a time period as 48 hours, rather than by the longer regulation process.

Brown was at the hearing to testify that Eastern Shore watermen opposed the bill, which Gill was there to support. In a Jan. 31 letter to Committee Chairman Maggie McIntosh (D-43) Brown said Gill approached him as they were leaving the hearing and according to Brown said, “If this bill [{meaning HB 145}] does not pass, I will be so conservative and cut quotas and I will hurt you. Did you hear me! I will hurt you!” Brown asked McIntosh to take action against Gill for making the threat and cc’d the letter to Gill.

In an attempt to clarify his remarks made during the exchange, Gill responded to Brown on Jan. 31 in a letter stating, ”What I was trying to convey in our conversation was what it would mean if the department lacked the authority to adjust seasons by public notice.”

Gill offered to meet with Brown in an effort to build trust and improve the working relationship between the agency and the watermen. Of the proposed bill, Gill said, “I think you would agree that the authority we have had over the past decade has benefitted the watermen because, for example, it has allowed us to set the harvest based upon the most current data, and extend the fishery where quota has not been caught or in cases of bad weather.” Gill continued, “The Attorney General has said that we have this authority, but if we did not, the Department would be forced to establish more conservative quota allocations which we could not adjust.”

Gill apologized for what he described as a possible misperception and told Brown his remarks were meant to convey that a failure of the legislation would be harmful to watermen generally. “So my intention was to convey that possible result to you. At no point did I intend for the message to come across as personal to you or any other watermen.”

Brown posted the letters on the Maryland Watermen’s Association Web site, and reportedly the incident prompted several local government officials to express their concerns over the comments to the General Assembly leadership and Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

The Senate version of the bill was withdrawn on Feb. 10. A motion by Sen. Richard Colburn (R-37) for a  special order to delay the vote on Gill’s nomination as secretary until Feb. 14 was approved on Feb. 1. “It now appears that the Senate Executive Nominations Committee (of which I am a member) may have another hearing on Mr. Gill’s nomination on March 3rd,” Colburn said in a statement.

Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) said in a Feb. 5 statement that he shared Colburn’s concern about Gill’s alleged comments. “State officials, whether elected or appointed, have a responsibility to act courteously and to provide the best possible services to the people they serve, regardless of any philosophical or professional differences they may have,” he said.

McDermott called the vote to delay consideration of Gill’s nomination “a wise move as the nominee is now held in contempt by all of the watermen.”

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