With pressure from Corbett, Pa. Game Commission blocks promotion of official under ethics cloud

William Capouillez oversees gas leases for a state agency and consults on them in his free time.
William Capouillez oversees gas leases for a state agency and consults on them in his free time.
Posted: March 20, 2014

Under pressure from Gov. Corbett, the Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday agreed to revoke a $220,000 severance to its former executive director and to block the promotion of an official who is under an ethics cloud.

The Game Commission's action came after Corbett and seven legislative leaders told the agency's eight appointed board members on Tuesday that they should immediately resign if they are unable to carry out the "recommendations."

In a 63-word letter, the board agreed to the governor's demands.

"The board will immediately take appropriate action to implement these recommendations," wrote R. Matthew Hough, the commission's executive director.

The governor's effort to bring the Game Commission into line was prompted by the agency's decision in January to pay its outgoing director, Carl Roe, a severance package and then consider promoting a deputy, William A. Capouillez, to head the agency.

Capouillez, who oversees oil and gas leasing on nearly 1.5 million acres of public game lands, was the subject of an Inquirer article in August examining his prosperous off-hours business negotiating Marcellus Shale gas leases for private landowners.

The governor's letter called Roe's $220,000 severance payment a "gross abuse" of the commission's fiduciary responsibility. And it said the appointment of Capouillez, who is now under investigation by the state Ethics Commission, would be a "significant error in judgment."

Game Commission officials say the administration is motivated by a larger political agenda to curb the commission's power, particularly its management of the state's threatened and endangered species list.

A bill supported by the administration would strip the Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's review over endangered species and assign that duty to the Independent Regulatory Review Committee.

The bill is supported by the oil and gas industry and opposed by environmentalists.

Other legislation would merge the Game Commission, an independent agency that is flush with revenue from oil and gas leasing, with the Fish and Boat Commission, which is under financial strain.

"There are political aspects to what's going on," said Brian H. Hoover, the Glenolden borough manager, who was appointed by Corbett as one of eight Game Commission members in 2012.

Jay Pagni, Corbett's spokesman, denied that the governor's actions were aimed at advancing the oil and gas industry's agenda, saying they were intended to restore public trust in the Game Commission.

"The letter speaks for itself," Pagni said. It was signed by the seven legislators, including the Senate and House leaders, and the chairmen of the Game and Fisheries Committees, as well as Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).

Game Commission board members said the severance payment to Roe, which they characterized as a legal settlement to resolve a dispute over his early forced retirement, passed legal muster last year.

And board members also expressed support for Capouillez, whose outside work negotiating Marcellus Shale gas leases for private landowners had been authorized by the commission.

Corbett's letter called on the commission to revoke Capouillez's outside employment agreement. He remains employed as the agency's director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management.

Capouillez, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said the agency had no choice but to agree to the governor's demands.

"I've never seen or experienced anything like this before," he said of the scrutiny and pressure the Game Commission has experienced.

"I don't want the agency to continue to be beat up over this," he said.


amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947 @maykuth

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