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Contract arranged Pennsylvania Game Commission director's early exit

Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Pennsylvaina Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe listens to remarks from state Rep. Jeff Plye during a hearing Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013

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Monday, March 10, 2014, 10:57 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — An agreement between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its former executive director hastened the director's departure from the wildlife agency by as many as 14 months, according to a document that the eight commission members signed.

The document proposed a $220,000 payment to former director Carl Roe of Carlisle.

The agency called it a “settlement agreement” to avoid litigation, but Gov. Tom Corbett's lawyers said it is an “improper severance agreement.” The June document, obtained by the Tribune-Review, is titled “Agreement and Release.”

Roe could not be reached.

“Although Roe's original plan was to serve until April 2015, in consideration of current circumstances, Roe agrees to retire from the Pennsylvania Game Commission no later than Jan. 31, 2014,” the document reads.

Roe retired on Jan. 17. The document does not detail the “circumstances.”

It doesn't matter what it's called, said Mark Schwartz, a Bryn Mawr lawyer, when asked for his opinion of the document.

“The key words are mutual agreement. It's an agreement. Clearly, they (commissioners) want him out. He's willing to go out for a price,” said Schwartz, former aide to the late House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis, D-Oakland.

“The language is simply window dressing. People don't pay money — let alone double six figures — for no reason.”

Schwartz wondered “why should there be confidentiality? It's public money. Is this a police state?”

Some lawmakers reacted angrily to the Trib's first report of the payout on Friday.

“Outraged at PA Game Commission's attempt to divert funds from sportsmen for secret payment to failed Exec. Director,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, tweeted on Monday.

“Everybody was saying, ‘What the heck? How did this happen?' ” said Stephen Miskin, House Republican spokesman. “It's emblematic of how the commission has operated the past few years.”

One lawmaker who said the proposed payout “made my blood boil” is filing legislation to cut hunting license fees.

Rep. Brad Roae's message to the commission: Don't ask for a license fee increase, though the last one was 15 years ago. An adult hunting license costs $20.70.

“All the money from the first 10,638 adult hunting licenses sold this season will be needed to pay the $220,000 severance payment,” said Roae, a Republican who lives near Meadville. The bill for which he's gathering co-sponsors would cut license fees by $1.

The Attorney General's Office approved the payment to Roe last year, but the state comptroller “flagged” it, Corbett's office said. The attorney general asked for clarification from the commission.

Brad Bechtel, the Game Commission's chief counsel, said he was not authorized to discuss the document.

“This is just further evidence the commission and its leadership have total disregard for the public trust and the sportsmen they serve,” said Jay Pagni, Corbett's press secretary.

The Game Commission on Friday released a Dec. 26 letter Bechtel sent to the Corbett administration that said the payment to Roe would be a “settlement agreement in lieu of litigation” because Roe threatened legal action. The letter called for communications between the board and Roe to remain “confidential.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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