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Citing the stress and pressure of leading a large organization with a diverse, far-flung constituency, Jeff Crow of Bismarck announced Tuesday that he will resign as director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission effective Feb. 28.

Crow became director of the Game and Fish Commission on July 1, 2016. He succeeded former director Mike Knoedl, under whose administration Crow served as chief of law enforcement, deputy director and chief of staff. His salary is $132,728.96.

Steve Cook of Malvern, the Game and Fish Commission's chairman, said Crow will not receive a severance package. Crow, who retired from the Arkansas State Police, cannot draw additional retirement benefits from the Game and Fish Commission.

Crow said there was no precipitating factor or conflict that prompted him to make such a sudden decision.

"Whenever an agency head retires abruptly, it makes people take notice," Crow said. "There's no allegation or scandal or anything like that. It's just time."

Despite serving in multiple high-level positions in the agency, Crow said he sometimes struggled with the complexities of managing multiple departments with diverse missions and responsibilities.

"Seeing what Mike [Knoedl] went through, I thought I had a good idea about the pressures that went along with that," Crow said. "Everybody gets to a point in their career where they ask, 'How effective are you going to be?' It just may not be in the cards for you to go forward."

Cook said the suddenness of Crow's decision surprised commission members but he believes it was inevitable.

"I think it's just the stress of what that position holds, the everyday ins and outs," Cook said. "I get enough phone calls and emails, but I'm sure his pile of return phone calls, emails, voice mails and text messages is probably twice as much as I can fathom."

Cook said the timing and manner of Crow's resignation should dispel rumors that it was forced.

"Doing it the way he did, there won't be any talk that we went into executive session and gave him a choice to resign or be dismissed," Cook said. "It was a decision he came to on his own."

Crow served 25 years in the Marine Corps. His wristwatch is set to military time. His terse, precise bearing and his autonomous management style sometimes caught the commission off guard.

Crow acknowledged that limiting his communications with the commission was a chronic shortcoming.

"One of the big challenges for the director is adequately informing the commission about what's going on, and perhaps one of the biggest challenges I had was keeping that line of communication open," Crow said. "No matter how much you do, it's never going to be enough. Vice chairman Ford Overton said you need to over-communicate. My advice to my successor would be to make that a priority."

Crow said a major communications breakdown occurred in the summer when the agency introduced its new hunting and fishing license system. Hunters and anglers scorned and lampooned the new system on which licenses and game transportation tags are printed on 8½-by-11 printer paper.

"I think there was a misunderstanding on the part of the commission what the intent of the new licensing system was," Crow said. "There were some customer service issues with that, but I wish I would have done a better job communicating with the commissioners because typically when their phone rings, it's someone blowing them up about something that's not going right with the agency, and they were getting a lot of feedback on that.

"These gentlemen that serve on the commission have a very finite time to absorb a lot of information," Crow continued. "The challenge is determining what they need to focus in on and making sure they have that information."

Several commissioners also criticized Crow for rifts that recently occurred between the agency and members of the Legislature. One was over a regulation that restricts the transportation of wild baitfish. Another was over law enforcement responsibilities on wildlife management areas.

"Those two incidents did divide the commission somewhat," Cook said. "This legislative deal over Amendment 92 was stressful between both groups not knowing how that law affects certain agencies."

Cook said the commission also deserved some responsibility for its conflicts with the Legislature.

"I think the commission needs to communicate more with the legislative body as a whole so that they're educated on what we're doing, and that we have a relationship to know what they're doing," Cook said. "We just need to be able to communicate better and not have something blow up like this last committee deal."

Crow managed an ambitious agenda that included updating the agency's employee pay plan. He was director during the first hunting season after chronic wasting disease was detected in whitetail deer in north Arkansas. Deer hunters were concerned about the health of the state's deer herd, and the agency's staff worried that the disease might be more pervasive than was known.

"Chronic wasting disease was probably one of the biggest crises that our agency has ever experienced," Crow said. "To come through that on the other side with all the terrible news that kept rolling in, it would have been very easy for our agency, our staff and our commission to panic. Our measured response and going the extra mile to make sure that we were doing sound practices, I was pleased with the way that turned out."

Cook said the commission has not identified any candidates to replace Crow and that he believes the commission should seek candidates inside and outside the agency.

"I will call for an executive session at our next meeting, and I will ask our personnel and governance committee to get in touch with our new human resources chief to get that process started immediately," Cook said. "It's not something we're going to stretch out. As chairman I want to see it fast-tracked, but I don't want it so fast that we don't do our due diligence in finding the right person to fill that seat."

NW News on 10/12/2017

Print Headline: Game & Fish director says time to resign

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