- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is getting a pay raise of just over $20,000 a year.

The department’s governing commission recently approved the raise, which took effect Jan. 1, The Clarion-Ledger reported (https://on.thec-l.com/2iZvhlf ).

The director, Sam Polles, was previously being paid $126,668. His salary rises to $147,216.

He has held the job since 1992.

Commission chairman Billy Deviney told the newspaper that he and other commissioners have been trying for two years to increase Polles’ pay, which was lower than the pay for directors in some other states.

Research by the Mississippi Personnel Board showed wildlife agency directors in surrounding states made an average of $141,513 in 2015. Louisiana’s director had the lowest salary, at $123,614.

In a written statement to The Clarion-Ledger, Polles said: “While I am in agreement that the realignment of the executive director position for the state’s largest natural resource agency is appropriate and equitable with other agency heads similarly situated, I am personally reluctant to accept a salary increase until such time as the state Personnel Board’s realignment recommendations can be implemented for other appropriate staff positions.”

State government offices in Jackson were closed Friday because of a winter storm, and nobody at the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks was available to ask whether Polles is refusing to accept the raise.

Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement Friday: “I have no objection to the commission increasing the salary of the executive director.”

Bryant said Polles “has done a remarkable job and deserves to be properly compensated for his leadership.”

Deviney told the newspaper one concern was the timing of the raise. Legislators in 2016 approved the first increases in 23 years in the fee people pay for hunting and fishing licenses. The additional revenue was earmarked for recruitment and retention of conservation officers. Because the director’s salary increase came only six months after the new fees became effective, Deviney said some people might think the funds came from the fee increase.

“None of that money we got went to the director,” Deviney said. “All of that money went to law enforcement.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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