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A change would do DMR good
Perception of agency hindering its mission

by Frank Corder
Story after story continues to trickle out of the Department of Marine Resources, raising many questions of possible improprieties. State and federal investigators have come to town and the cloud hanging over DMR is growing.

If you’re from the Coast, you know rumor has stirred since a deal was made on the Harbor Landing property in Ocean Springs a few years back. What appears to be at issue now is the manner in which funds were used to purchase land, invest in projects, and lease boats – at least that’s what has been made known thus far.

The players are all close knit, even some with familial ties. The stakes are high - in the millions of dollars. And the public distrust and uncertainty is palpable as the investigations continue.

First came the report that investigators stormed the DMR, closing employees out of their offices (including DMR Executive Director Bill Walker) and taking files for review.

Soon after a report from the SunHerald outlining where Walker had “signed off on using public money under his control to buy a vacant lot in Gulf Hills that belonged to his son” emerged. As the SunHerald wrote, “The sale price was $190,000, and the transaction was finalized in July 2011 with a $210,000 grant from the DMR.” Another site was purchased as well with a tie to another DMR employee’s family.

A new report came out over the weekend, again from the SunHerald, stating that Walker “has since 2007 spent more than $1.46 million in public money on two recreational fishing boats leased from a foundation Walker also manages.”

When you consider these along with the other rumors stirring regarding the use of funds on projects closely linked to the friends and family of DMR employees, not to mention the lobbying efforts of some DMR family members, it has created a perfect storm whether real or perceived.

Unfortunately, whether or not any ill-gotten gain was intended or acquired, perception in politics is often reality. For the sake of the taxpayers’ peace of mind and the health of the state agency, it is time for significant changes at DMR. DMR needs to turn the page and begin anew so it’s mission can proceed without the skepticism currently clouding the air.

And as an aside, the SunHerald is to be complimented for their diligent work in bringing these stories to light. Some Coast news organizations still have not even mentioned the investigation, raising even more questions along the way.

Posted December 10, 2012 - 3:33 pm

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