Gov. Bullock announces more cabinet appointments

MSGA has had conversations with both Martha Williams, the new director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Ben Thomas, the new director of the Department of Agriculture. MSGA will be setting up meetings with both directors once they begin their positions and looks forward to working with both directors.

Source: Independent Record

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock filled several key cabinet and adviser positions on Friday, including appointments to the state’s departments of agriculture and fish and wildlife.

Six cabinet members and key staffers resigned before the Democratic governor started his second term this month. With Friday’s announcement, vacancies remain in two departments: commerce and corrections.

Martha Williams

University of Montana law professor Martha Williams was named as the director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Bullock spokesman Tim Crowe said she will begin Feb. 1.

Williams teaches law classes on the environment, wildlife, public land and natural resources, according to her University of Montana biography. She previously was the U.S. Department of the Interior’s deputy solicitor and before that, an attorney for FWP.

Williams will replace Jeff Hagener, who served under three governors in 12 years in the position.

Members of the Montana Wildlife Federation said they are looking forward to working with Williams.

“Martha Williams has a distinguished career in wildlife management law and policy, including having worked for Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the past, as well as experience with other federal land and wildlife agencies,” Executive Director Dave Chadwick said.

Chadwick said Williams will be the first woman to be named FWP director in Montana, and said she’s one of few in the country.

“It’s pretty rare unfortunately,” he said. “There are not many wildlife agencies that have women as directors.”

Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture worker, will become the new director of the state Department of Agriculture. Most recently, Thomas was the federal agency’s deputy undersecretary for its marketing and regulatory programs.

Thomas replaces former director Ron de Yong, who also was agriculture director under former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Kim Mangold, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, will be interim director until Thomas arrives. Mangold, who has served as deputy director for a year and a half, said she didn’t know exactly when Thomas would take over, but expected it would be several weeks. Mangold worked with Thomas when he was an aide for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

“We have a very good working relationship,” she said. “We’re very happy he’s going to be taking the position.”

Replacements for Mike Batista at the Department of Corrections and Meg O’Leary at the Department of Commerce still have not been hired, Crowe said. Two deputy directors, Doug Mitchell in commerce and Loraine Wodnick in corrections, are heading those agencies temporarily.

Bullock announced other key staffing changes:

Ken Fichtler

Ken Fichtler will become chief business development officer, heading the governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Fichtler has spent his career in high-tech business management and marketing. He is also an entrepreneur and business investor, having started Montana companies like Gecko8 Studios and Fermion Technologies, as well as co-founding the first and largest TEDx event in the state, TEDxBozeman. Most recently he has served as the senior marketing specialist for Lattice Materials. Fichtler is a graduate of the Montana State University School of Business.

Patrick Holmes

Patrick Holmes replaces Tim Baker as Bullock’s natural resource policy adviser.

Holmes most recently served as the chief of staff to the undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. During his tenure at the Department of Agriculture, he was trusted to provide counsel to the secretary of agriculture on issues related to forest restoration, innovative wood products, working lands conservation, wildland fire, and others affecting the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. He holds a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale University and a bachelor of arts in natural resources management and policy.

Baker has been appointed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Jennifer Anders has been reappointed to the council.

For the last four years, Baker has served as Bullock’s natural resource policy adviser. In that capacity he has worked on issues ranging from energy development and water use, to wildlife, state lands, and mining. He will continue to advise the governor on energy policy. Baker was born in Detroit, Michigan and after graduating from the University of Michigan, he moved west to attend law school at the University of Montana. He worked for the Montana Public Service Commission as a staff attorney and chief counsel, and then with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, where he focused on air quality. After leaving state government he was executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, and was working for Montana Trout Unlimited when Bullock asked him to return to public service.

Anders was first appointed to the council in 2013 by Bullock. Prior to her appointment, she represented the state of Montana with the Attorney General’s office in civil and criminal cases on land use, water law and resource development issues. Anders holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California and a law degree from the University of Montana.

Jessica Rhoades

Jessica Rhoades leaves the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to become the governor’s health policy adviser.

Rhoades has 16 years of experience in health care and public policy. Prior to her appointment, she was the policy director for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, where she oversaw the work of the Governor’s Council on Health Care Innovation, which resulted in Montana being selected to pioneer a public-private partnership for the largest primary care reform initiative of its kind in the U.S. She previously served as health policy adviser for former Gov. Brian Schweitzer and before that worked for the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. She was northwest region public affairs director for a national health care provider, covering 14 states including Montana.

Ronja Abel

Bullock’s deputy communications director, Ronja Abel, will become communications director with Tim Crowe departing to take a position with the Montana National Guard.

Abel has served as Bullock’s deputy communications director for the past year and previously, she served as communications director for the Montana Department of Commerce and as program specialist for the Montana Small Business Development Center Network.

Independent Record reporters Holly Michels and Erin Loranger contributed to this report.