The state Game and Fish Commission may be independent, but it knows it is interdependent on the executive and legislative branch. It moved quickly today to respond to Gov. Mike Beebe's call to reduce the state vehicle fleet.
Game and Fish has been a sore spot because it numbers a few more vehicles — 658 — than employees. Some are special purpose and motor pool vehicles and many are in the hands of heavy-driving wildlife officers. But, interim director Loren Hitchcock acknowledged, an agency policy set 20 years ago had been stretched over the years to provide vehicles to a large number of people mostly office-bound.
He said the new direction arrived at by the commission today should remove about 130 vehicles, mostly of office workers, from the fleet by the end of the fiscal year June 30. He said one commissioner, Ron Duncan, broke from an otherwise unanimous commission on the changes because he was concerned about financial impact on employees who've had cars. Hitchcock said the commission hoped to reduce the fleet 20 to 25 percent, which means the reduction could even be more than 130.
Hitchcock said changes would begin at the top with the end of cars for himself, division chiefs and their assistants. Those supervisors then will decide which underlings should continue to have cars, even if it means using them for commutes. There will not be a reapplication process as is contemplated in executive agencies. In the beginning, he said, the rule of thumb was that an employee should have to expect to be out of the office three days of the five-day work week to qualify for a state car, but many clearly no longer met that standard. That guideline will continue as part of the controlling policy.
Three commission members — Craig Campbell, Rick Watkins and George Dunklin — attended in person. All the others attended by phone. Hitchcock said the commission's new committee system had a vehicle policy review underway since April, but he acknowledged that it had been accelerated by recent media attention and the political season. Hitchcock emphasized that, when you consider the mission of the agency, it's not surprising that many employees require vehicles. Wildlife officers, biologists and others spend large amounts of time in the field.
Here's the detailed order approved by the Commission today.