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DNR officials didn't violate ethical code, state says

DNR officials didn't violate ethical code, state says

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Two top officials at the state Department of Natural Resources did not violate the state’s ethics code in their handling of a case against an Oconomowoc waste hauler, according to a state ethics administrator.

The agency sought an opinion on the matter after inquiries by the Wisconsin State Journal about potential conflicts posed by the involvement of executive assistant Scott Gunderson and deputy secretary Matt Moroney in the prosecution of Richard Herr, owner of Herr Environmental, for excessive spreading of wastes and inaccurate record-keeping.

Gunderson received $750 in campaign contributions from Herr and his wife when he was in the state Legislature.

Jonathan Becker, head of the state Division of Ethics and Accountability, said the state’s ethics code did not prohibit Gunderson’s participation in the case because he received the contributions as a legislator, a position he no longer holds.

Moroney recused himself from the Herr case due to a previous business relationship with Todd Stair, a vice president with Herr Environmental, Inc.

According to Moroney, Herr was a member of Metropolitan Homebuilders Association in Milwaukee while Moroney served as the organization’s executive director. Also, while he was executive director, Moroney worked with Stair to get a septic system donated to the organization for two charitable homebuilding events. And Moroney said he had his own private septic tank pumped by Herr Environmental.

Documents from the Herr enforcement file, however, showed Moroney on at least one occasion provided staff his opinion about the case and Stair.

In a June 22, 2011, letter to Moroney, Stair complained about the agency’s handling of the investigation. The same day, Moroney sent an email to Ken Johnson, head of the DNR’s water division, and Russ Rasmussen, deputy director of the division.

“I would like to talk about this situation,” Moroney wrote. “In full disclosure, I have worked with Todd on several projects. He has always been a very straight shooter. We all make innocent mistakes. I don’t see how the punishment fits the crime in this instance from his side of the story. I am interested in the other side of the story, which there always is.”

Moroney, who said he wrote the email before recusing himself from the case, said he saw nothing inappropriate with the correspondence and just wanted to be sure staff had all the information needed.

Even so, Becker said Moroney would not have had to recuse himself based on his reading of the state’s ethics policy.


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