There's been an unexpected staffing shakeup at DMR

Department of Marine Resources patrol boat
Department of Marine Resources patrol boat Sun Herald file

There are some new faces, and a little bit of intrigue, at the Department of Marine Resources offices in Biloxi.

T.J. Moran and Russell Weatherly have started new jobs there. Moran was a longtime field director for U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo and Weatherly until this spring was the Harrison County road manager.

Any changes at the agency stoke curiosity given its notorious past. Former Executive Director Bill Walker and several others were convicted of crimes related to their activities at the agency. Walker went to federal prison but served his time and was released.

Moran will be doing government relations and Weatherly will be managing projects in the Tidelands Trust Fund Program and the Gulf of Mexico Security Act, said DMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins. He has yet to say whether the jobs are new positions and whether they were advertised.

DMR receives about $8 million a year from leases of land on the shore and beneath the Mississippi Sound, primarily from casinos. Cities and other government bodies can apply for the money for conservation, safety, marketing and recreational projects.

Mississippi will receive $27.7 million from GOMESA this year, its share of royalties from offshore oil and gas production. The money is supposed to be spent on conservation, restoration and hazard mitigation in the three Coast counties.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors officially accepted Weatherly's resignation but Supervisor Marlin Ladner said Weatherly was actually forced out in retaliation for a Legislature's Performance, Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee report critical of road spending approved by the supervisors. Palazzo's office hasn't responded to a request for information about Moran's exit there.

Then there's Melissa Scallan, the public affairs director who is leaving the agency, perhaps only temporarily. Neither Spraggins nor Scallan would say much.

"Not sure if I can make the announcement as to where Melissa is going," Spraggins wrote in an email. "Probably can very soon."

Scallan, a reporter at the Sun Herald for years before going to DMR, simply said we'd have to be patient.