By George Weeks, Syndicated columnist
---- — Over the decades, for the most part, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has had solid leadership in dealing with issues that have touched the quality of our lives more than do most departments.
Stellar examples include 1975-83 Director Howard Tanner, 1988-86 Director Gordon Guyer and current Director Becky Humphries, a veteran wildlife biologist who has been with the DNR for 32 years and was named director in 2004.
At that time, a runner-up was Rodney Stokes, who also has more than 30 years with the DNR in key roles, including 1997-2002 director of the Parks and Recreation Division. He ended up, according to DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff, as "Becky's right-hand man" on policy, legislative liaison, science and other matters.
Now, in a stroke applauded in conservation and environmental circles, Gov.-elect Rick Snyder has tapped Stokes to replace Humphries, who is leaving to become Ann Arbor-based regional director of Ducks Unlimited.
Publisher Glen Sheppard of the Charlevoix-based North Woods Call, whose lead editorial Dec. 1 was headlined "Conservation looking up under new governor," on Friday called Stokes "a damn good choice" and said DNR professionals "are raving over him." On Dec. 6, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) called Stokes "an excellent choice ... We believe that his experience and passion for the appropriate and measured management of Michigan's valuable lands and waters will provide steady guidance to this agency in the upcoming reorganization."
Reorganization is the rub for many — ever since Gov. John Engler split off the DNR's environmental functions to create the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Less than a year ago, Gov. Jennifer Granholm merged the DNR and DEQ into the Department of Natural and Resources and Environment. A good move, in my view.
The Michigan LCV, which endorsed Snyder in the GOP gubernatorial primary and Democrat Virg Bernero in his but was neutral in their showdown, said Snyder's reorganization has "serious consequences. ... When Governor Engler originally split the two departments, it was in an effort to make the DEQ less powerful in its enforcement responsibilities.
"This present division, then, can result in two possible outcomes. The first is that the DNR and DEQ focus on their respective areas of authority in a more focused and efficient manner, leading to even greater benefits to Michiganders. The second is that resources are more easily diverted from DEQ by legislators uncomfortably close to major polluters, communication between the two agencies is hampered, and our lakes, communities, and rivers all suffer.
"Obviously we have a preference here and look forward to working with the new governor, Legislature, and the new agencies in order to successfully navigate the administrative turbulence to calmer (and cleaner) waters." Considering that candidate Snyder put a heavy emphasis on promoting interests of urban Michigan, it is worth noting that Stokes served as interim director and deputy director of the Detroit Recreation Department.
Businessman Snyder plans to form departments in clusters that will be coordinated by a group leader who will report to Snyder. The "Quality of Life" group will include DNR Director Stokes; DEQ Director Dan Wyant, who was Department of Agriculture Director under both Engler and Granholm and will be the group leader; and Keith Creagh, who will direct the Department of Agriculture, where he served as chief deputy director before leaving to join the Neogen Corp.
Director Erin McDonough of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs said of Snyder's move:
"By putting these new leaders in place and immediately sharing his plan to re-split the DNR and DEQ, it would seem that the new administration intends to hit the ground running."
Dave Dempsey, who was an environmental adviser to Gov. James Blanchard, wrote in Lansing's City Pulse newspaper: "One of the big agriculture issues Wyant and Creagh will face is a bumper crop of manure runoff from factory farms into lakes and streams. Environmentalists were pleased when the Granholm administration cracked down on the problem by requiring the operations to get Clean Water Act permits setting limits on the pollution and enabling enforcement of violations. Now that policy is in jeopardy."
Long robe; short term
When Democrat Alton Thomas Davis leaves the Michigan Supreme Court at the end of the year, he will have served the third shortest term of the 105 justices in state history — four months and six days.
He became a Supreme via a bold and controversial deal brokered by Republican Justice Betty Weaver of Glen Arbor, who made an offer to Granholm to resign if Granholm would appoint a northerner. (Weaver's call to have regional representation on the Supreme Court is among her many ideas for reform of the court she will be pushing in retirement.) Weaver suggested Davis, a Michigan Appeals Court judge from Grayling. Granholm seized the opportunity, appointing Davis to fill out Weaver's term to the end of 2010. He failed Nov. 2 when he ran for the next term.
The short-term record of two months and eight days was that of Republican Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley of Grosse Pointe Farms, who was appointed to a vacancy in 1982 by outgoing Republican Bill Milliken. She was elected in 1984 and served 12 years.
The second shortest term was two months, 27 days in 1892 by Democrat George Durand, who had been mayor of Flint and was appointed by Gov. Edwin B. Winans, the first Democrat to be elected governor in nearly 40 years.
The legal community — and possibly voters — will not have heard the last of Davis when his brief term ends Jan. 1. He chairs one of the committees that is part of an exhaustive State Bar of Michigan task force study that is about to propose an historic realignment of the state's court system.
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing Bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.