Thursday, August 6, 2009

News -- Tahoe woman resigns as head of California Fish and Game Commission

By Matt Weiser
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009 - 1:14 pm

The president of California's Fish and Game Commission has resigned on the eve of a critical vote to approve new marine sanctuaries, possibly throwing that vote into deadlock.

Cindy Gustafson filed her resignation letter Friday and it was effective immediately. It came in response to an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office, which Gustafson requested, finding that her job conflicts with her role on the commission.

Gustafson is general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utilities District, which provides water, sewer and recreation services for a portion of the Lake Tahoe community. Her job is defined under state law as an "officer" of the organization, which creates a "conflict of loyalties" with her appointed post on the Fish and Game Commission.

According to the Attorney General's opinion, Gustafson said, this conflict of loyalties is more difficult than a simple conflict of interest. It prevents Gustafson from simply recusing herself from individual votes that conflict with her work.

"I want everyone to know I raised this question myself," Gustafson said. "It's a huge disappointment. It was definitely heart-wrenching to leave."

The Fish and Game Commission, at its meeting tomorrow in Woodland, is scheduled to vote on whether to create 30 new marine protected areas between Santa Cruz and Mendocino. The project, which aims to protect marine habitat and restore fish stocks, has been in the works for two years.

Gustafson's absence means the decision may deadlock in a 2-2 vote, as commissioners Dan Richards and Jim Kellogg are known to have concerns about adopting more marine sanctuaries in the midst of a state budget crisis.

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