Nixon fires aide, reinstates DNR director

Joe Bindbeutel

Gov. Nixon fired a longtime aide and reinstated his top environment regulator after an investigation revealed a pattern of failures to protect Missouri's water quality.

Nixon told capitol reporters Friday that a review of the Department of Natural Resources found numerous cases, some going back to 2005, where the agency failed to disclose bacterial contamination of lake water and/or failed to close the public beaches at state parks.

Nixon said state regulators have had a habit of turning a blind eye to bacteria problems at the Lake of the Ozarks.

"DNR'S internal method for closing beaches is fundamentally flawed, Nixon said.

Nixon accepted responsibility for the breakdowns in communication that occurred this summer. But he laid the blame at the feet of Joe Bindbeutel, a former deputy director at the DNR who apparently made the decision to sit on the E. coli test results collected in May and who Nixon subsequently appointed to be an administrative law judge.

"Because of that error and the jeopardy in which it placed the public's trust," said Nixon. "It is proper for me to withdraw his appointment to the administrative hearing commission, effective immediately."

In September, Nixon suspended DNR director Mark Templeton without pay, pending the results of the investigation. The governor has decided to give Templeton his job back.

"I am reinstating Mark," said Nixon, "because I believe he deserves the chance to set things right now and fix the issues that have plagued DNR since before he arrived."

Nixon said he now wants an aggressive natural resources agency - one that is open about any problems it uncovers and much more diligent about punishing polluters.

The governor had difficulty explaining to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter why he told the news media in July that no one in his office knew anything about the failure to disclose the E. coli findings for a number of weeks afterward when it was later revealed his communications people had learned of it within a few days.

"Systems failed," Nixon said. "And people made mistakes."

The governor shifted the focus to making sure the culture gets changed and the situation is not repeated.

"This is an institutional problem," Nixon said, "which requires attention.

Nixon said a review found 10 cases over the past three years in which beaches at state parks were not appropriately closed despite high E. coli levels.

He also cited 14 cases since 2005 when DNR failed to tell the public about high bacteria levels in the Lake of the Ozarks.