The commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, who had been working without an approved contract, has stepped down amid investigations into the agency’s practices.
Jon Gassett, who had been commissioner since 2005 and a Fish and Wildlife employee since 1999, was out of the office traveling to a conference Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the agency, confirmed that Gassett resigned through a letter sent to friends and employees. cn|2 Pure Politics first reported Gassett’s resignation late Thursday.
Marraccini forwarded a copy of Gassett’s resignation letter to The State Journal Friday. He said Gassett, whose resignation is effective Sept. 20, leaves behind a “powerful legacy” and called him one of the “preeminent” wildlife professionals in the country.
In the letter, Gassett said he has accepted a position with the Wildlife Management Institute, a non-profit organization that works to improve wildlife management practices.
Gassett touted his successes as commissioner in the letter, but he said he felt a call to take on new challenges.
“While the job of running a state agency is one of the best that anyone could
have, after (eight) years, the day-to-day functions have taken me away from the reason for entering this field — to focus with laser-like intensity on the conservation of our wildlife resources and our outdoor heritage,” Gassett said in the letter.
Deputy Commissioner Benjy Kinman will be acting commissioner until the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission finds a replacement, according to the letter.
Gassett’s resignation comes when Fish and Wildlife is under increased scrutiny. The Government Contract Review Committee deferred action on Gassett’s employment contract, which would have capped his compensation at $218,000, because the commission had not formally approved it.
The Program Review and Investigations Committee made recommendations to improve oversight at Fish and Wildlife last month but found the agency in compliance. Dual probes by the Office of Inspector General in the Kentucky Cabinet for Public Protection and, according to Democratic Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission are ongoing.
Yonts has been vocal about his misgivings on spending and personnel decisions at the department. He cited a 2012 Associated Press report detailing more than $71,000 spent by Gassett on travel since 2008, more than any other worker in Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration in that timeframe. His travels included 20 trips to Washington, D.C., and others to Saratoga, N.Y., and Monterey, Calif.