- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock is in ongoing discussions with his cabinet members about whether they will remain in their positions in his second term, with at least one agency head saying Thursday he will step down.

Montana Department of Corrections Director Mike Batista told The Associated Press that his last day will be Dec. 31. Batista, 57, said he plans to retire after decades working in corrections and law enforcement in state and federal government.

“I’ve enjoyed my time with DOC a lot,” Batista said. “I have great appreciation for the work people do. It’s tough. The people here are very dedicated.”

Bullock, a Democrat, won a second term by defeating Republican challenger Greg Gianforte, and will be sworn in again in January.

Staffing changes are not unusual when officials are re-elected, and Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel said the governor was in conversations with all of his appointed directors about their desire to serve in the next term.

Other departments were instructed by the governor’s office not to discuss top-level staff changes with the media, and Abel said the governor planned a Dec. 9 news conference to announce all of the departures and new arrivals.

Officials with the Department of Public Health and Human Services and Fish, Wildlife and Parks referred questions to the governor’s office.

Commerce Department Director Meg O’Leary declined to comment on her future in state government. Department of Administration Director Sheila Hogan was having “important discussions” with the governor, said administration spokeswoman Laura Smith, but Smith declined to elaborate.

Batista said his replacement at the corrections department will face a number of challenges, particularly prison capacity as the inmate population continues to grow.

He said a bill package approved by the Commission on Sentencing for the full Legislature next year would help address the issue.

The legislation seeks to lower recidivism rates by focusing on keeping new probationers from returning to prison, expanding drug treatment programs and examining ways to keep more non-violent offenders out of jail, said Sen. Cynthia Wolken, D-Missoula, chairwoman of the Commission on Sentencing.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but he’s done a great job of getting the ball rolling,” Wolken said of Batista. “I think he has led the department in modernizing and he supported the justice reinvestment policies moving through the Legislature.”

Bullock is “in discussions” about his replacement, Abel said.

“The governor deeply appreciates Mike’s dedication to the Department of Corrections and all of the outstanding work that he has done on behalf of Montanans,” Abel said.

Batista has led the Department of Corrections since Bullock took office in 2013.

Before that, Batista spent 20 years with the state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, and was head of the division before Bullock picked him for his cabinet.

Batista previously worked in intelligence research for the U.S. Department of Justice and started as an investigator for the Montana attorney general’s office.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide