By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ politically-motivated Department of Natural Resources and liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul are pulling a number of stunts to stop the conservative-led DNR Board from seeking outside legal counsel, according to board Vice Chairman Gregory Kazmierski.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported last week, the DNR board sought to call a special meeting for Friday morning to vote on booting Kaul’s conflicted Department of Justice from representing the board in lawsuits filed by Wisconsin tribes and environmental groups looking to shut down Wisconsin’s annual wolf hunt.
Kazmierski said the defiant DNR improperly noticed a special session meeting, failing to note the board would take action, thus delaying a vote on a motion seeking to ask a judge to appoint outside counsel. It was no innocent mistake, the vice chairman said. The majority conservatives sought to move ahead, prepared to post a corrected public notice and hold the meeting yet Friday afternoon. They were then told by the department that none of its bureaucrats would attend, and neither would the DNR board liaison.
“The DOJ is tripping all over themselves. They do not want us to do that,” Kazmierski said. “We’re getting total misinformation out of the DNR board attorney, who also is the lead attorney for the department.”
That’s the big problem, and the reason why a majority of the board is seeking outside counsel.
Kaul is appealing his failed lawsuit attempting to remove Chairman Fred Prehn from a conservative-led DNR board that has infuriated Gov. Tony Evers and environmentalists even as the attorney general’s assistants claim to represent the board in the wolf hunt lawsuits.
The case is supposed to go before a court this week. Kazmierski said the DOJ attorney representing the board didn’t even know when the court date was.
More troubling, he said, the DOJ is working out deals with the environmental groups suing the board — a fact board members didn’t know about until late last week.
“Every word that comes out of their mouth shows we don’t have a defense,” the board member said. “It’s not ethical.”
Kaul’s office did not return a request for comment.
A Dane County judge last month rejected Kaul’s lawsuit to remove Prehn, who has remained on the board months after his term ended. Prehn has successfully argued he doesn’t need to vacate the post until the Republican-controlled state Senate confirms his successor, nominated by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn agreed with Prehn, citing a previous Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling — Thompson v. Gibson — which found a state auditor could remain in his position until his successor was confirmed.
“Accordingly, the Court is bound by the holding of Thompson v. Gibson to conclude that there is no vacancy in the Board seat,” Bailey-Rihn wrote in her ruling.
Despite the fact that a judge in the most liberal court system in Wisconsin found his arguments suspect, Kaul, a deeply partisan Democrat, has said he is appealing the lower court decision.
Prehn’s presence keeps Evers’ nominee, teacher and environmentalist Sandra Naas, off the board for now. Conservatives hold a narrow 4-3 majority.
At the same time, Kaul’s office is supposed to be representing the DNR Board against a coalition of environment groups suing to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and invalidate a state law that mandates annual hunts.
The DNR board asked Kaul to let it retain outside counsel. His office denied the request, making it all the more political in noting in its letter that Evers’ office also has denied the request. The AG’s office said they had an “adequate fire wall” to prevent a conflict of interest.
Kazmierski said the DNR originally refused to post the notice for Friday’s meeting.
“We had a quorum established on Wednesday afternoon. As of (Thursday) night they had told our liaison who works for the department to not put the notice out yet .. We went to bed (Thursday) night not knowing at all whether they were going to noice the meeting on a timely basis,” Kazmierski said.
Evers’ DNR this week defied its board again, dramatically scaling back the number of wolves hunters are allowed to harvest in the upcoming fall season. In August, the board approved a limit of 300 wolves, 170 more than DNR biologists had recommended.
Kazmierski said Evers’ DNR is out-of-control, and the public has no idea just how lawless the agency has become.
“It’s really scary stuff to me,” he said.