- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - 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.

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 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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