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Sheffield Nelson misleading public about his role in attempts to adopt new administrative rules at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Date11/19/2010
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LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today released historical commission documents that show former commission Chairman Sheffield Nelson was involved in efforts to adopt new administrative procedures when he served at the agency. Nelson has filed suit against the commission claiming its attempts to alter the state rules are illegal.

While serving on the commission, Nelson was advised of a July 6, 2000, opinion from then-Attorney General Mark Pryor that the rule-making provisions of the Arkansas Administrative Procedure Act (AAPA) could not be constitutionally applied to the Game and Fish Commission.

Nelson served on the commission from 2000-2007 and was chairman from 2006-2007.

During his tenure, Nelson encouraged the commission’s legal staff to prepare agency procedures that would replace the AAPA.

In public comments, Nelson has said he would not have supported and was not involved in any attempts to alter AAPA while he served on the commission.

"After Sheffield Nelson filed his suit, the commission asked our legal staff to research Nelson’s role in discussions regarding the development of administrative procedures at the commission,” said Commissioner Rick Watkins. “The conclusion of that review shows that Nelson is attacking the commission today for the very same thing he attempted to do while he served on the commission. It’s time he becomes accountable for his actions and tells the truth to the people of Arkansas.”

Nelson has criticized the commission for “an arrogant and total failure” to comply with the law related to the AAPA. Yet he has not fully disclosed that as a Game and Fish commissioner he was involved in discussions, beginning in July 2000, about the agency developing its own administrative procedures.

The historical documents show that Nelson was at the commission meetings and participated in discussions related to the commission developing its own administrative procedures. Documents also show that Nelson praised the commission’s staff several times for its work.

“Mr. Nelson’s public position is just not in line with the facts,” said Jim Goodhart, chief counsel for the commission who served in the same role during Nelson’s tenure on the commission. “Mr. Nelson was aware of and encouraged our efforts to develop administrative procedures for the commission. He had several conversations with me personally directing me and my staff to move ahead and develop new procedures.”

The commission released the records today in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Nelson’s attorney, who asked for a history of discussions related to the Administrative Procedure Act and FOIA.

The Game and Fish Commission in June 2010 enhanced its governance policy to create a more open and transparent committee system to improve operations. Nelson filed suit in September 2010, claiming that policy violated the AAPA.

In the Nelson lawsuit, the commission is represented by Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow of Little Rock.