Newsom column | Insiders say Edwards may head DMR

February 2, 2013 

Word around the campfire is Ashley Edwards is in line to become the next head of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources -- the permanent replacement for Bill Walker, who was fired in January as a result of state and federal investigations of the agency.

When I approached him for a comment, Edwards, who had worked for Gov. Haley Barbour after Hurricane Katrina and now works for Gov. Phil Bryant, told me it would be inappropriate for him to talk about it. But state government insiders from the Coast to Jackson hear Edwards may be the guy.

Edwards has been dubbed a "go-to" man on Coast issues by some in state government. He joined Barbour's office in early 2006 and served as deputy director of the Governor's Office of Recovery and Renewal after Katrina. He now works as executive director of Bryant's recovery office.

Bryant will pick the DMR director from three candidates nominated by the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources. The commission has set a meeting for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the DMR's Bayview Avenue office to give the public a chance to weigh in on the qualities they'd like to see in the next DMR head. Despite the meeting, some are likely to be uneasy that a politically connected person, Edwards, may be the predetermined director in waiting.

Interim Director Danny Guice, a former state lawmaker, has also said he plans to seek the job on a permanent basis. On the day Walker was fired, he said maybe it was "providence" that put him there when Walker hired him late last year. Others have suggested a clean break from the agency's past is in order.

The next DMR director may have a new boss. Bryant said in a recent meeting with the Sun Herald he'd like to study doing away with the Commission on Marine Resources, which was intended to govern the agency, and have the DMR's director report directly to him.

I hear the next DMR director, Edwards or whoever, might come in for a year to 18 months and handle a big overhaul of the agency. That's likely to be a big job if the reorganization goes as deep as some observers think it will. This overhaul process could be designed so whoever follows Walker comes in, cleans house and sets the table for a more-permanent director to step into the big office at DMR.

A lot is at stake here, so you can bet plenty of eyes will be on the process as it plays out over the next several months.

Michael Newsom, the Sun Herald's political editor, can be reached at 896-2324 or mmnewsom@sunherald.com.

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