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Grand Rapids man picked to head Legacy funding council

Minnesota's Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council -- which recommends how to spend $100 million in Legacy Amendment funds yearly on game, fish and wildlife habitat -- has selected a new executive director, after two contentious meetings.

Minnesota’s Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council - which recommends how to spend $100 million in Legacy Amendment funds yearly on game, fish and wildlife habitat - has selected a new executive director, after two contentious meetings.
Mark Johnson, 55, of Grand Rapids, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association for the past 14 years, got the nod over two others Tuesday at the State Capitol.
“I’m honored to be considered,” Johnson said. “It’s a very important position for Minnesota’s natural resources and the future of our hunting heritage.”
A move for a unanimous vote was rejected and Johnson was recommended on a 9-2 vote, underscoring the divisiveness of the 12-member council in regard to the hiring. (Council member Ron Schara left before the vote because of a prior commitment.) Last month, three members walked out of a meeting in a dispute about the hiring process.
Johnson had been eliminated by the Legislative Coordinating Commission, which whittled the pool of 35 applicants to two. But after some Heritage Council members complained about having only two candidates, the council added Johnson last month.
The other finalists were Heather Koop, assistant director of the Lessard-Sams Council, and Kevin Bigalke, district administrator of the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District in Hennepin County.
Before interviewing the three Tuesday, the council rejected a motion to expand the number of candidates to five.
Johnson told the council that he was an avid hunter and angler who has been involved with natural resource conservation for 24 years and supported the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act and the formation of the Heritage Council. He was former executive director of Turn In Poachers and a regional director for the Ruffed Grouse Society.
After the three candidates were interviewed and left the room, the council couldn’t reach a consensus. Five members said they supported Johnson, three each supported Bigalke and Koop.
Council member Scott Rall of Worthington made a motion to recommend Johnson, “the person undisputably with the most hands-on experience in game, fish and wildlife habitat.”
When it became clear Johnson had the most support, several members switched allegiance and voted for him.
The council’s recommendation now goes to the Legislative Coordinating Commission, expected to heed the council’s recommendation. If hired, Johnson would replace Bill Becker, who retires in November.

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