BILOXI -- Vernon Asper hopes those who come to tonight's Commission on Marine Resources meeting will focus on the future, not the past.
"I've been reading the comments on the boards and that appear on the website below the articles," he said. "So if those people show up, it's going to be pretty interesting. But you never know."
Asper will address the public before opening the floor to anyone who wants to talk about the search for a director to replace Bill Walker, who was recently fired by the commission that oversees the DMR. He said he'll use their comments to craft an ad seeking a new director, though he sees no need to hire outside help in that search.
"I'm going to stress at the outset this is not the time to vent about mistakes that were made in the past," Asper said. "This is a time to contribute toward the future, and making the DMR the agency we want it to be. So I'm going to try to stress the positive, and sort of try to keep the complaining about the negative to a minimum."
Asper also will read the statute that outlines the qualifications for DMR director.
One requires that the di
rector be "knowledgeable and experienced in marine resources management."
"It is one of the requirements that is in the statute, but that can be very broadly interpreted," he said. "If you look at the people we have had in the past, Dr. Walker was sort of an anomaly. He had a Ph.D. The ones we had before that did not. E. Glade Woods, for example, was an excellent director, I think he did a fantastic job, and his background was pretty much only in management. He didn't have much of a background at all in marine resources management. And he did a great job."
One candidate for the job, interim Director Danny Guice, says he has legislative, judicial and administrative experience, and a lack of scientific background should not rule him out. He said he'll be there tonight but doesn't plan to speak.
Lobster vs. shrimp
Not everyone agrees with Guice and Asper about the requirement.
Ed Cake, CEO and chief science officer at Gulf Environmental Associates, is circulating a petition calling for a citizens advisory board to help with the search. He said he'll tell the commission a science background is crucial to the job.
"One of my criteria," he said, "would be that the candidates should have a minimum of 10 years' active employment and/or research experience in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico region. Should be someone who is familiar with the ecosystems, environments, plants and animals they will be dealing with in the Gulf. I don't want to see someone from the University of Maine come down here and having a go at managing our fisheries when he probably couldn't tell a lobster from a shrimp or a blue mussel from an oyster."
Asper and Cake both said a good director could be found in the Gulf region.
"I think there are probably plenty of folks between Florida and Texas who have those experience levels and who hopefully will be willing to pick up and move. The question I have and is probably on many folks mind is with all the troubles in the agency, are there serious folks who would look at that and say, 'Not in my wildest dreams would I want to go there.'"
Cake does not want the job, either.
"There's too much water over the dam for this particular 72-year-old individual to worry about that agency," he said. "But there are other folks in the Gulf South area who would be willing to do this.
"My concern, most of my criteria that I will give to the CMR tomorrow are related to folks who have marine-resource management skills rather than political experience."
Citizens advisory board
Cake also has a petition asking the CMR to appoint a citizens advisory board to help with the search. Asper hasn't ruled that out, although he said he doesn't want to hire a executive search firm.
"We did that in the past and it didn't seem like it was a valid expenditure of taxpayer money, really," Asper said "I think this position is going to be well-enough advertised in the local Southern area that I think the word will get out and I don't think we need to have people going out and doing what headhunters do."
Those ads won't go out, he said, until the commission considers everything it hears tonight.
"The idea is we're going to see what the public has, the stakeholders, see what kind of things they would like to see this person be able to do," he said, "what kind of qualifications and characteristics, and we'll shape our ad around that.
"I don't think we're going to confine it anywhere but we're going to focus our advertising on the local area, and really the best way to get the right person is by word of mouth. I don't think I will take long for word to get out."
He also said, despite rumors that a choice has essentially been made, "it's wide open."
"We have had some names suggested to us by various people but I would consider the search wide open -- subject to change."
Cake and Asper also agree on the need for openness in the process.
"The gist of the emails (he has received) is they want the process to be as open as possible," Asper said. "That's what I'm hearing loud and clear. And I'm trying to do that."