David Parrish, who spent 16 years in the Magic Valley office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, including the last eight as supervisor, has been demoted and transferred to Boise as the agency's fisheries program coordinator.
Magic Valley Region Education Specialist Kelton Hatch declined to talk specifics but confirmed that Parrish left the Magic Valley Region offices earlier this week.
The action came a month after Parrish publicly criticized an estimated $500 million wind project planned for south of Twin Falls. Parrish's letter to the editor, published in the Times News, prompted a high-ranking state lawmaker to contact Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and express concern that Parrish violated a governor's office media policy.
Fish and Game announced the demotion Monday but did not do so publicly. Deputy Director Virgil Moore confirmed the change in an interview Thursday and said the demotion was the result of a number of factors that accumulated over a long period of time.
"The issue has to do not so much with the content as with the process," Moore said. "With any written information that we put out we need to be sure that that information is factual and has awareness at all levels of the department."
Moore said that was not done in this case.
"We're in the middle of a process," he said. "It's premature for any of us, before that process is completed, to judge the outcome."
Parrish declined to talk at any length over the move, but said he was surprised.
"I'm leaving a fantastic staff in place to continue to do the great work," he said.
Moore said an interim regional supervisor, fisheries program employee Fred Partridge, will fill Parrish's empty shoes until a new supervisor is hired, preferably from within the agency.
Parrish's letter was printed in the Times News on July 6. He asserted that the wind farm might help Idaho's economy but "will have negative repercussions on Idaho's wildlife."
The letter prompted a response from Fish and Game Director Cal Groen, who wrote later that Parrish had given his opinion, not that of the agency.
Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, later contacted Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, asserting that Parrish's letter was a breach of the governor's media policy.
In April, Otter's communication director, Mark Warbis, e-mailed state employees reminding them to alert him about media interviews and to allow him to review potentially controversial press releases before they go public.
Warbis warned that his office must be informed of "all media inquiries," and that he must review any agency press releases before it's sent out if it's anything "that might be controversial at all."
"We are not looking to usurp the role of agency directors in any way, but only to ensure a level of consistency and uniformity in our public and media messaging," Warbis wrote. "As you know, the governor puts a premium on all state agencies' cooperating and working as a team to serve the people. Public disputes on points of policy are inconsistent with that goal. Our media policy is designed to prevent those, but it requires your full compliance."
Idaho House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she is concerned that the state's agencies are not given the opportunity to assess issues as experts. Rather, the rank-and-file uniformity mentioned in Warbis' e-mail indicates that the state's leading experts must now opine as politicians.
Asked if Parrish's move was a political decision, she said, "Oh yea."
"The only part that's a little bit difficult about this is that apparently Dave gave another assessment about another project somewhere along the lines and was warned not to do it. However, I think he felt like he needed to give an assessment based on the issue of the science."
Jaquet called the Warbis memo "another example of a one-party state."
Moore did not couch his explanation of the events in political terms but said, simply, that Parrish had not conformed to department protocol.
"It's not so much about the content as it is being sure about the thoughtful nature of the response," Moore said.
Moore added that staff move around frequently within the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. It is less common in leadership roles, but it happens just the same.
The controls employed within the department are important, he said.
"Any time you have policy discussions on anything, there's generally people on all sides of an issue," he said. "You're going to have somebody who thinks it wasn't done right. Our department has been very responsive to those differences, as have all state departments. That's not right or wrong."
Moreover, Moore said Bedke's involvement did not play a role in Parrish's relocation.