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ANR Re-organization is a Rocky Road

Local Matters


Published December 26, 2007 at 1:28 p.m.

MONTPELIER - Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources Secretary George Crombie is attempting to make his agency more compatible with contemporary issues - such as global warming - by reconfiguring ANR's three existing departments into 18 "centers." But some say he has ruffled too many feathers in the process.

At least two prominent environmental advocacy groups, a state senator and a chorus of ANR insiders have expressed serious doubts about Crombie's plan. On October 3, Seven Days reported allegations that the "re-org" process is plagued by lack of transparency and general disregard for an ANR-specific legislative advisory committee. Current ANR employees claimed agency morale has suffered under Crombie's reportedly domineering management style. One of them said that former DEC commissioner Jeff Wennberg was "let go" by Crombie in August for personal differences.

Since then, more personnel have shifted. For one, Crombie promoted former re-org coordinator Laura Pelosi to Wennberg's former job. Communications Director Darren Allen resigned, and Executive Assistant Brad Wright was allegedly fired for quoting from a "dissident" Brattleboro Reformer editorial in an agency email, according to a source close to the dismissal. When contacted by Seven Days, Wright refused to talk. He was succeeded on October 15 by Sabina Haskell, a former Reformer editor.

Crombie didn't return a phone call for the October story, but did grant a December request for a re-org update. "Everything has been on the website," he says in response to the October allegations. Crombie also defends his "task force" strategy - employee groups have been charged with creating the new cross-disciplinary "centers." The 18 task forces, which included over a third of the agency's staff, recently presented their findings. Crombie claims the process "reflects" his transparent approach. As a matter of policy, he would not discuss any personnel moves at the agency.

Rich Phillips, a 35-year agency vet who retired in 2006, was impressed with the November task force presentations, but not much else. In an August letter to Jim Douglas, he had likened ANR to a "loaded freight train," suggesting Crombie wasn't "open-minded" enough to spearhead the 600-plus-person bureaucratic organ.

"I don't think the [re-org] is transparent at all," Philips says in response to the secretary's assurances. "As far as I can see, [Crombie] sold the governor on this major reorganization before he came here, and the governor is just standing behind his man."