OCEAN CITY — Despite a major dust-up over perceived threats at worst or miscommunication at best, a Senate committee this week approved Joseph Gill’s nomination as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and the issue will now move to a vote by the entire Senate.
The Senate Executive Nomination Committee on Monday approved Gill’s nomination as DNR secretary by a vote of 14-1 following a hearing that lasted over two hours. Eastern Shore Senator Richard Colburn (R-37), a staunch advocate for commercial fishermen on the shore, cast the lone negative vote against Gill’s appointment.
Gill’s nomination came into question last month when he allegedly threatened the head of the Maryland Watermen’s Association following a hearing on legislation that would broaden the DNR’s authority to set quotas and change season lengths for the commercial and recreational fisheries in and around the Ocean City area, the Chesapeake Bay and all over the state. The bill had an initial hearing in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee in February, after which comments made by Acting DNR Secretary Gill to the Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert Brown broadened the rift between state anglers and the regulatory agency and threatened to derail Gill’s permanent appointment to the post.
Brown reported he was standing outside the Environmental Matters Committee meeting room after the hearing with his wife and the DNR’s Frank Dawson when Gill allegedly approached them and warned them to play ball and not oppose the bill’s passage.
“What happened next shocked and offended my wife, me, and from the look on his face, Mr. Dawson as well,” said Brown in the letter to the McIntosh. “Mr. Gill stated to us, ‘if this bill does not pass, I will be so conservative and cut quotas and I will hurt you. Do you hear me? I will hurt you’.”
For his part, Gill has not denied making the comments to Brown, but has suggested they were taken out of context. Gill explained as much in his own letter to Brown.
“With regard to the conversation we had following the hearing, it appears to me that we each took away something very different from that conversation,” Gill wrote to Brown in response. “What I was trying to convey in our conversation was what it would mean if the department lacked the authority to adjust seasons by public notice. The Attorney General has said that we have this authority, but if we do not, the department would be forced to establish more conservative quota allocations which we could not adjust. This would be harmful to watermen generally, so my intention was to convey that possible result to you. At no point did I intend for the message to come across as personal to you or any other watermen. I apologize to you since apparently you interpreted my comments differently.”