ATLANTA -- The Board of Natural Resources skipped its usual procedures on Tuesday and elected a chairman who had not served the previous year as an apprentice of sorts as vice chairman. Nor will the outgoing chairman serve as an elder statesman.
That’s because Gov. Nathan Deal sacked both last year’s vice chairman, Warren Budd, of Newnan, who expected to become chairman, and Earl Barrs, the 2011 chairman who owns a 1,500-acre tree farm in Bleckley County. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed Budd and Barrs to the board in 2005, and he appointed Barrs’ wife Wanda to the State Board of Education where she also served as chairwoman.
Earl Barrs and Budd’s terms expired, and instead of re-appointing them, Deal put two other men on the board that sets environmental regulations and oversees state parks. Joining the board Tuesday were J. Mark Mobley Jr., owner of the Mobley Gin Co., for the Eighth District and William Bagwell Jr. of Homestead Investments for the Ninth.
The board elected as chairman Dr. Philip Watt, a non-practicing physician who is a consultant with Williams & Parker LLC. The new vice chairman is Robert Leebern, head of the Washington lobbying arm of the Troutman Sanders law firm that represents large corporations.
“The governor’s office called the nominating committee and dictated who the chair was going to be,” Budd said.
Environmentalists say Deal shook up the board to further limit the influence of ecologists.
Budd has expressed skepticism about the governor’s plan for building more reservoirs in north Georgia as a way a source for metro Atlanta’s drinking water. He has often been the only member at meetings to raise concerns about the DNR response to chemical spills and question agency enforcement of regulations.
Budd told reporters after the meeting that he would have steered the board to vigorously protect natural resources.
“I would have appointed people to the committees that are sensitive to the environment,” he said, adding that he would have included Watt.
When welcoming the new board members, Watt told them not to be shy about expressing their opinions.
“I heard from the chairman when I got on the board, ‘don’t just sit down there and not say anything. Speak up,’” Watt told Mobley and Bagwell.