Embattled secretary cites CCA, outdoor writers and ‘individuals within the department’ as problems
In a hand-delivered letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon tendered his resignation effective Dec. 31 — specifically citing the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, the state’s outdoor writers and LDWF employees for sabotaging reforms he was attempting to bring about.
“I accepted your appointment in the spirit of public service without the knowledge that I would be responsible for turning around a troubled state agency,” Melancon wrote. “However, many of the department’s previous problems persist, driven in large part by the Coastal Conservation Association and individuals within the department.
“I had contemplated resigning before now, but I realized that doing so would only empower those at the department who have violated the trust of our state. Therefore, I chose to stick with the job, cooperate with the investigations into the previous administration, and see to it that the individuals who abused this agency would be brought to justice.”
Melancon didn’t hold back in his opinion of CCA, which clashed with him on many topics during his time in charge, including his decision to not support state management of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as canceling the popular TAG Louisiana program.
“When you asked me to serve as secretary of the department, you asked me to be fair with all stakeholders. I tried that, only to find that the CCA was not interested in the Department being fair to anyone but them,” Melancon wrote. “The department has contracted with CCA for a total of $3.36 million over the past six years, and I have concerns about some of those contracts based on what was uncovered during audits and reviews.
“And let me note that the majority of Louisiana outdoor writers are gratuitously courted by the CCA and write exactly what they are instructed. There should be some ethics laws for such inappropriate collusion.”
CCA Executive Director David Cresson responded to the allegations Thursday morning.
“While we may have disagreed with some of the policies put forth by Secretary Melancon, we felt we experessed our differences of opinion professionally and respectfully,” Cresson said. “As we stated last week, we wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
Regarding the $3.36 million contract with LDWF, Cresson said the bulk of that money was for the conservation group’s efforts to create artificial reefs along the coast.
“The dollars from the Department were matched dollar for dollar by CCA. The majority of those dollars were for the highly successful inshore reef partnership, leading to the construction of 15 artificial reefs across Louisiana’s coast,” Cresson said. “The rest was for the popular TAG Louisiana Program, which enjoyed explosive growth since the formation of the partnership.
“In all cases, CCA far exceeded the requirements of the contracts and helped to create very positive projectes for Louisiana anglers. We’re proud of these partnerships.”
Although he originally agreed to resign as secretary in two months, Melancon said staying on at the agency was putting a strain on his family, and cited employees within the agency for blocking reforms he was attempting to create, especially in light of the legislative auditor’s into how money was spent in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
At that time, Robert Barham was secretary of the department.
“These past 11 months have been a mental and physical grind as we have had to continuously maneuver around people within and outside the Department who were part and parcel of the corrupt practices being uncovered,” Melancon wrote. “I believe that some individuals associated with the CCA and some of its political allies within the department will appear in the investigative documents. The investigations, and their outcomes, will either exonerate or will confirm.”
The letter continued, with Melancon stating that many employees at the department are honest, hard working people, but said he sees “almost daily attempts to revert to the past bad practices.”
“I am ever hopeful that the Louisiana inspector general and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, along with the recently hired independent auditors and the outside CPA firm, will flush out any other items of illegality or wrongdoing, if such does still exist,” Melancon wrote. “The agency and its employees are tremendous, but trust me, the department has a way to go to become the transparent and totally productive agency that it can be.
“The department will need your and my successor’s continued leadership to make sure that such problems and outside intervention and disruption do not continue.”
In the end, Melancon said it was simply time for him to move on.
“There is a time to come and a time to go. Having had a public service presence, in and out of public office, has been rewarding,” Melancon wrote. “Now is the time to go.”
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