At a time when the mere suggestion of a conflict of interest by government appointees is skirted like the plague, it's hard to believe any elected official would support an outright case of it.
Nonetheless, here we are . . .Two weeks ago, Greg Cunningham, at Gov. Norm Bangerter's request and with full Senate approval, was reappointed to the Utah Board of Big Game Control.
As in past years, Cunningham's responsibilities will be to act as the ears and vote of the governor. Beginning Friday, and continuing to the following Friday, he will travel about the state hearing concerns and suggestions from sportsmen and landowners on how this state's big-game hunts should be handled. As a cattleman, he will sit in judgment, along with four others - a sheepman, a sportsman, a public-lands representative and now, Tim Provan, new director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resoures, who votes only to break ties.
Sportsmen haven't always liked rulings, but they have lived by them.
Decisions may have been questioned, but never the integrity of the board. Voters may have had an interest in a particular vote, but never has one profited directly from a board decision.
There is a good chance that won't be the case this year. It is possible that when the board meets in executive session on May 13, Cunningham will, from his seat on the board, ask other board members to grant him 10 special elk permits, which he will then sell to other sportsmen for a handsome profit - more than $40,000.
To his credit, he says he will not vote if it comes up. To his discredit, he accepted reappointment without any concern over what damage he might cause. The fact Cunningham is asking for the permits has sportsmen angry, and the fact he sits on the board that will grant the permits has them enraged. Some board members have also expressed deep concern. As one said, the entire integrity of the big-game system is jeopardized.
Never has a Utah hunter been able to buy more than one elk permit in a season. Cunningham wants 10. Never has this board granted special dispensation to an individual, certainly not for profit. And never has a board member asked for such dispensation.
The obvious question then is why was he reappointed despite the impending conflict of interest? The answer is as disconcerting as the reappointment: Bangerter said through his press secretary that he doesn't see a conflict of interest here and stands by his choice. Did he know about Cunningham's request? Yes.
Once again, as has happened all too often in the Bangerter years, the governor has displayed a lack of concern for wildlife procedures and insensitivity to sportsmen. Cattlemen wanted Cunningham on the board; sportsmen didn't.
Cunningham was reappointed.
To further cloud the appointment, Cunningham won't be at two of the six public meetings next week. By coincidence, the two meetings will be in towns closest to where his permits would be valid. He will miss the two meetings while pleading with the Division of State Lands and Forestry for total control of 53,000 acres of state trust lands on which he will use his 10 permits.
Cunningham has been, and, if this one issue were not involved, would continue to be, a good board member. But if he wants the permits, then let him ask from the audience, not from the bench. He has every right to do so as a citizen and sportsman. To ask as a board member taints the entire permit process.
Had the governor a better feel for sportsmen, he would have seen this. If he wanted Cunningham that badly, he could have appointed an interim board member until the permit matter was settled.
If Cunningham were to be granted the permits as a private citizen, sportsmen might not like it but they would be able to trust the decision-making process. But as a board member, regardless of the outcome, it will be seen as underhanded.
Bangerter has been heard to ask just what it is that sportsmen don't like about him, since he considers himself one of them. If he truly were, why is it that he's not as upset over this as other sportsmen?