Senate passes bill affecting state agency that just fired director

Sweeping changes to the state’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission won passage Thursday from the Senate, a day after the commission’s board fired its executive director.

Brent Dykes had been with the agency for 18 years, rising to the top. The past year, however, had been trying — as Dykes alluded to in an email Wednesday to staff and supporters announcing his departure and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It has become increasingly evident that is time for someone else to lead this organization; someone who has the full support of the current state board,” Dykes said. “I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me by the board to be a steward of the agency as executive director for the past 7 years. I have tried each day to make the best decisions for the agency while balancing the many budget and policy demands the agency has faced.”

Dykes will remain a staff member through April 24. Deputy Executive Director Dave Eigenberg has temporarily been tasked with leading the agency, which drafts the state’s manual that outlines how to control erosion and prevent more dirt and runoff from seeping into Georgia’s waterways.

The Senate’s 31-19 vote sends House Bill 397 back to the House, despite environmentalists’ objections that it gives Gov. Nathan Deal too much control over the commission and could affect how it makes decisions affecting the state’s water quality.

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Under the governor’s plan, the commission would shift from a stand-alone agency to one that’s overseen by the Department of Agriculture. It also would allow the governor to appoint whomever he chooses to its five-member board, rather than limiting his picks to the elected supervisors of the 40 soil and water districts statewide.

Supporters of the measure pitched it as a way to streamline environmental regulations for prospective employers who want to move or expand in Georgia. They also said it continues to allow qualified people to be appointed to the board.

If the House agrees to tweaks made by a Senate committee, it would be sent to Deal for his signature.

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