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DMR Director Says Personnel Board Exemption Would Help With Agency’s Turn Around

By Evelina Burnett | Published 18 Mar 2014 08:04pm | comments
DMR Director Jamie Miller speaks at an event last year (file photo)

The Mississippi House and Senate disagree on whether the Department of Marine Resources should be given a one-year exemption from oversight by the state personnel board, which makes sure agencies are following the state's hiring and firing rules. It also gives employees a mechanism for due process if they are terminated.

Related story: DMR Bill Heads to Committee After House Passes Its Own Version

During floor debate last week, House members argued the marine agency needs more, not less oversight. The DMR was rocked by scandal last year, leading to the indictment of seven former employees.

"We all believe in accountability, and if there was ever an agency that needed to be held to account, right now, given the history of what's gone on down here, it's the DMR," Representative David Baria of Bay St Louis said during last week's floor debate. "I don't think it's appropriate for us to remove them from the oversight and the purview of the state personnel board."

But current director Jamie Miller argues the exemption from personnel board rules would help with accountability. He says it would let the agency move some of its 147 state-authorized positions into needed areas such as accounting, finance and compliance. He says currently about 138 of those positions are filled. 

But other agencies, when granted this kind of leeway in the past, have had layoffs. Miller says that's not his intent.

"We’re shifting quickly to try to get to a more accountable, a more compliant agency, but we just don’t have the number of job descriptions in that part of the agency now," he says. "So we've got to try to move quickly to do it. Otherwise, we would be able to do it, but it would just take several legislative sessions to get there.”

Other parts of the bill that are still up in the air concern an artificial reef account and a legislative oversight committee.

Jimmy Taylor is chair of the Commission on Marine Resources, which oversees the DMR.

“I think it’s a good bill for the most part," Taylor says. "I think the legislative oversight committee might be a little much, but anything we can do to restore the public trust and confidence in the DMR, I’m for.”

On Tuesday, the Senate invited the House to go into conference to work out their differences on the DMR bill.

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DMR Director Jamie Miller speaks at an event last year (file photo)


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