U.S. Sen. Roland Burris has been the most high-profile appointee of Gov. Rod Blagojevich since his arrest in December on corruption charges. But Blagojevich made another personnel decision last week that arguably has as much impact on downstate Illinois as Burris’ appointment — the selection of former Rep. Kurt Granberg to be the next head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris has been the most high-profile appointee of Gov. Rod Blagojevich since his arrest in December on corruption charges
But Blagojevich made another personnel decision last week that arguably has as much impact on downstate Illinois as Burris’ appointment — the selection of former Rep. Kurt Granberg to be the next head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The Granberg appointment has to be approved by the Illinois Senate. It should not sign off until Blagojevich’s impeachment trial is complete. It’s probable that Pat Quinn will soon become governor. Given that likely scenario, Quinn should make the decision on who has the top DNR job.
As Lieutenant Governor, Quinn has been involved in DNR-related programs that return riverside farmland to its natural state and taking rich sediment from the Illinois River basin and using it to create parks at brownfield sites. So we were heartened to hear Quinn say Thursday that a qualified natural resources professional should be in charge instead of using DNR as a dumping ground for retiring politicians.
Granberg, a Democrat from Carlyle, was one of the biggest supporters of Blagojevich in the House. Granberg even quit his legislative seat before he had to vote on the governor’s impeachment, having anticipated getting the DNR job for months.
“I thought I would be appointed by now, frankly,” Granberg told Lee newspapers’ Statehouse bureau.
Even if Granberg is a short-timer, he stands to benefit substantially.
While denying it is the reason he took the job, Granberg will get a nearly $40,000 pension boost per year by taking it, even if it’s just for a short time, according to The Associated Press. A person with more shame might wait until the state’s political situation plays out before accepting a gig with such promise for personal enrichment at the state’s expense. It also looks a lot like a big favor from the governor.
Blagojevich has devastated DNR, once one of the state’s best agencies, with budget cuts, the shuttering of seven state parks and irresponsible management. The department is such a low priority for Blagojevich that its top job has been filled by an interim director since December 2005.
State Journal-Register reporter Chris Young reported earlier this month that DNR was in danger of losing $16 million in federal matching funds because of a fund sweep of hunting and fishing license revenues in order to pay other bills. Fund sweeps have been one of the signature accounting gimmicks under this administration.
The license flap wasn’t the first time Illinois caught the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for attempting to use of restricted funds. Young’s story said the agency ran into similar trouble four other times since 2004.
Granberg told the Lee bureau he plans to increase tourism at state parks and wants to build a golf trail in southern Illinois similar to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
If Granberg does stay on the job, senators should ask how he plans to do all that, given the agency’s budget, and about his views on other questionable Blagojevich practices. Also fair game would be his 2000 involvement in a bid to construct a resort on Carlyle Lake despite the presence of the rare Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which is on the state’s endangered species list. Granburg introduced legislation to remove the snake from the list.
Maybe Granberg has suddenly seen the light. In any case, the Senate should wait for Pat Quinn to decide whether he sticks around.