- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Two Montana Department of Livestock leaders have resigned in an agency shake-up following budget problems and an auditor’s finding last year that the department was using questionable practices to make up for the shortfall.

Executive Officer Christian Mackay resigned Monday after the Board of Livestock met in a closed session to evaluate him. Brands Enforcement Division administrator John Grainger then stepped down.

Board Chairman John Lehfeldt said Wednesday that Mackay’s resignation came after a discussion on changing the direction of the department.

“He decided he would be more comfortable elsewhere,” Lehfeldt said.

Grainger resigned because he felt compelled to follow Mackay, Lehfeldt said.

Mackay said Wednesday the decision to resign was his, but he declined to answer additional questions. He was the department’s executive officer for more than eight years.

The department manages the livestock ownership and transportation in the state, works to prevent animal diseases, runs the state’s veterinary laboratory and regulates meat and dairy products.

Over the past year, the livestock agency has cut jobs and furloughed other workers in the face of a large budget shortfall. The state reduced funding to the department’s diagnostic lab, and the money coming in from brand inspections was down.

Accounting problems surfaced in May 2014 when a legislative audit found the department was spending state treasury money without recording expenditure transactions. The agency spent about $197,000 in state money in 2012-2013 without charging the required appropriations, the audit found.

The department also used deferred revenue from previous years to illegally pay for current year operations, the audit found.

At the time, Mackay acknowledged the agency spent deferred revenue but said he only found out that was improper through the audit.

Lehfeldt said Wednesday the financial problems were not the reason for Mackay’s departure, and that Mackay did an “excellent job recouping finances” for the new two-year budget cycle.

“We’re in fine shape,” Lehfeldt said.

Jim Brown of the Montana Woolgrowers Association said the department’s financial situation turned around for two reasons, and they didn’t have to do with Mackay. First, the Legislature this year provided more money to the agency’s lab. Second, two new board members were appointed and helped make tough decisions about agency personnel and raising fees on the industry, Brown said.

“It’s been the woolgrowers’ position for a number of years that the Board of Livestock was heading in the wrong direction,” he said.

Mackay’s resignation should give the board the opportunity to install a new leader who will carry out the revamped board’s vision and return the agency to prominence, Brown said.

A search will begin for Mackay’s replacement, and the assistant deputy for brands will carry out Grainger’s duties, Lehfeldt said.

Mackay was hired in 2007 after working as a real estate agent and a feed salesman in Billings. His wages were $40 per hour.

Grainger began working at the department in 2006 and made $33 an hour.

Errol Rice of the Montana Stockgrowers Association said he appreciates Mackay and Grainger’s service to the cattle and livestock industry, and that his association is committed to working with the board during the transition.


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