DNR bonuses sign of misguided leaders

January 14, 2007|By CANDUS THOMSON

Paging the Prince of Darkness. Joe Steffen, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

The self-proclaimed hatchet man who, four years ago, cleaned house in Annapolis is needed again. Why? Read on.

The Department of Natural Resources is in "fiscal crisis" according to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley transition team members who were briefed by agency officials.

Divisions within DNR, such as forestry, have gaping holes in staffing. Others, such as parks, have been forced to live with unrealistic revenue projections by the Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. budget wizards. Marine radios are little more than Dixie cups and string. Things are so dire that without an emergency cash infusion from the legislature, programs could shut down.

So how did Team Ehrlich and DNR leadership react to this crisis? By handing out cash to the top echelon last year.

Ehrlich gave Secretary Ron Franks a $1,400 bump to make his salary $130,842 - top scale. Franks, a dentist and fly fishing shop owner, once told me in front of his cringing spokeswoman that he didn't need the income from a DNR salary. Guess he didn't pass that along to Ehrlich.

Franks, in turn, gave his deputy, Ron Guns, a $3,398 bonus to raise his salary to $118,903.

The secretary gave his top two assistant secretaries, Mike Slattery and Kristin Saunders, raises of about $3,300 each, bringing their salaries to $110,534. That doesn't count Slattery's new, fully loaded, unmarked police cruiser with satellite radio.

Assistant secretary for federal relations Charlie Evans, who supervises one employee (maybe 1 1/2 ) got two bumps last year totaling $3,506, bringing his annual salary to $111,031.

Pity poor acting assistant secretary for Chesapeake Bay programs Frank Dawson, who is making just $90,284 after his $3,100 raise.

Granted, that $18,000 in raises isn't enough to bring back some of the people who quit for better-paying gigs or turn back the odometer on decrepit department vehicles, but it's symbolic of misguided leadership.

Heck, $18,000 translates into 720 tons of Woodrow Wilson Bridge rubble that could be hauled down the Potomac River to build artificial reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

Thank goodness this is almost over. It will be, won't it?

12 months, 12 fish

The bobber didn't fall too far from the rod.

Skip Zinck is a fishing fanatic. As a toddler, he scooped guppies from the family aquarium and relocated them to the toilet bowl to create his own private fishing hole. Or so the family story goes.

These days, he fishes a lot, writes a lot about fishing for the tidalfish.com Web site and attends fishing meetings.

That's nothing compared to his old man. Warren Zinck Sr. caught a striped bass every month of 2006 and has the photos to prove it. Numbing cold, blistering heat, waves the size of moving vans - none of them could keep the 80-year-old angler from wetting a line.

In September, he even fished from his son's boat while it chased a Caribbean cruise ship bearing his daughter and her husband from Baltimore Harbor into the Chesapeake Bay.

For "taking fishing to a whole new level," Chris Dollar of The Fisherman magazine presented the senior Zinck with a plaque honoring his accomplishment at Monday's award presentation before 153 members of the Pasadena Sportfishing Group.

When Dollar mused about a 12-fish, 12-month challenge in print a year ago, the senior Zinck "took it to heart," said daughter Jo Seitz.

He got things going Jan. 12 at Breezy Point and ended Dec. 12 at Point Lookout. In between, he ranged from Solomons to Thomas Point to Matapeake. Talk about a calendar of pin-up rockfish.

The catch that came earliest in a month was on May 2 at Brickhouse Bar, south of Kent Island. The latest was the last day of August at the LP Marker, a day so stormy that Skip Zinck didn't want to untie from the dock.

"Come on, I've got to get my fish," the skipper recalled his father saying.

For his part, Warren Zinck credits his son with putting him on the fish.

"I just reel them in," said the retired photo engraver for the News American.

The senior Zinck didn't just accept good wishes Monday night, he also passed some along to a new generation of anglers when he helped Tony Tochterman and Dee Taylor of the venerable Tochterman's Tackle select the winner of a $300 gift certificate to the shop.

Tyler Sigley, 14, of Glen Burnie won the prize, one he will no doubt spend getting ready for his fourth season on the water.

Savage update

Want a definition of chutzpah? Here goes.

DNR grants Mike Dreisbach, owner of the upscale Savage River Lodge in Western Maryland, a "safety zone" around his property, hiking trail and access road inside which hunters are prohibited from carrying loaded firearms.

Dreisbach says he needs this zone so that his guests feel safe during hunting season.

Granting such a buffer on public land is unprecedented, state officials acknowledge. It encompasses 193 acres and cuts off public access to a large wedge of Savage River State Forest.

According to the Maryland Natural Resources Police, only two people violated the Dreisbach safety zone during the two-week modern firearms season and received written warnings.

On Nov. 25, opening day, Brian Michael Dreisbach, 32, of Williamsport, and Walter Ernest Dreisbach, 66, of Hagerstown, relatives of the lodge owner, were stopped for carrying loaded firearms along Mount Aetna Road, the access road to the lodge. The senior Dreisbach also was given a written warning for not having his hunting license with him.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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