- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks violated its hiring rules in passing over Warden Sgt. Dave Loewen when he applied for three different promotions within the agency, the Board of Personnel Appeals found.

In an unusual move, the board ordered the agency to appoint Loewen to his preference from among the three jobs. Loewen will be replacing Tom Flowers, who has been chief of the Enforcement Division since July 2015, The Billings Gazette (bit.ly/2iImJjj) reports. The change takes effect Jan. 9.

Becky Docktor, FWP’s chief legal counsel, said usually the board would direct the agency to re-do its hiring process.

Loewen filed a grievance after he was passed over for jobs as law enforcement division chief, Region 3 warden captain and enforcement division assistant administrator, according to David Scrimm, chief administrator for the Department of Labor and Industry.

The appeals board said FWP violated state and agency hiring provisions and the Veterans’ Employment Preference Act.

With the retirement of FWP Director Jeff Hagener last month, the agency is being managed by chief of administration Dustin Temple, chief of staff Paul Sihler and chief of operations Mike Volesky. Sihler says they held “extensive discussions” before deciding not to appeal the board’s ruling.

The letter says FWP will work with Flowers - a 28-year veteran of the agency - to “ensure that he remains employed within FWP Enforcement in a meaningful capacity.”

Flowers said he was disappointed the agency didn’t appeal the board’s decision, especially since it is appealing a $1,500 fine by the Commissioner of Political Practices for allowing a trapping group to use a FWP trailer and displays in its 2014 campaign against anti-trapping legislation.

FWP leadership sent a memo to staffers Monday informing them of the change and asking them to help make the transition successful.

“Because of the errors made in the hiring process, and through no fault of their own, the two well qualified finalists for the chief’s position have been put in a difficult situation,” the memo said.

“We are taking steps to add additional rigor to department hiring practices to ensure these mistakes are not repeated,” the employee memo added.

Flowers’ base salary as of January 2016 was $93,400 while Loewen’s was just under $62,000, according to the state’s transparency in government website.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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