House budget plan targets Conservation Department’s deal with former director

The state House is poised to send to the Senate a budget that would cut $500,000 from the Department of Conservation.

Representative Craig Redmon (R-Canton), who chairs the budget subcommittee that oversees Conservation, proposed the cut.  He said it is in response to the Department having paid $127,000 plus benefits to former director Robert Ziehmer since he left the Department in July.

“There was a deal struck, unbeknownst to myself or the budget chairman [Representative Scott Fitzpatrick], where they continued to pay the director a salary and didn’t inform us, and it was contrary to what they had in their policy,” said Redmon.  “We feel like this is a blatant disregard for the House of Representatives so this is a message sent to the Department of Conservation.”

Representative Michael Butler (D-St. Louis), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, argued Ziehmer had earned his settlement

“I’d like to ask the body to imagine if they were a director of an agency.  They are taking a lot less money than what they’re worth.  They work in an agency for 30 years and they are forced out politically from that agency,” said Butler.

Redmon said it is not clear why Ziehmer left the Department, and said his committee is still trying to find out.

St. Louis Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) said Redmon’s amendment represents a punishment greater than the perceived offense.

“I think you’ve succeeded in getting the attention,” McCreery told Redmon, “but I think that what you’re going to do to the Department of Conservation is in the wrong spirit.  We do not use the budget to punish a few commissioners by punishing all the employees in the department.”

Redmon noted that the budget must next go to the state Senate, and that $500,000 could be restored depending on what the Department tells lawmakers.

The budget for the Department of Conservation is laid out in House Bill 6.