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Ethics complaint filed against legislator over WSU wolf research

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit activist group, has filed a complaint against Washington state Rep. Joel Kretz, alleging that he threatened to withhold university funding unless wolf researcher Robert Wielgus was fired. Kretz responded that PEER’s claims have no basis in fact.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on September 25, 2017 5:47PM

Last changed on September 26, 2017 8:42AM

A public employee activist group has accused Okanogan County Rep. Joel Kretz of violating a state ethics law.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press File

A public employee activist group has accused Okanogan County Rep. Joel Kretz of violating a state ethics law.

The legislative ethics board will take up a complaint filed against state Rep. Joel Kretz over allegations that he pressured Washington State University administrators to fire a controversial wolf researcher.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the complaint. Robert Wielgus, who runs the WSU Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, contacted PEER, said Adam Carlesco, the activist group’s staff counsel.

Wielgus has repeatedly been the center of controversy regarding wolves. He was reprimanded last year by WSU after accusing a rancher of purposely putting cows near a wolfpack’s den in the Colville National Forest. WSU administrators said they investigated and found that Wielgus’ claims were “inaccurate and inappropriate.”

The PEER ethics complaint alleges that Kretz, R-Wauconda, and administrators discussed efforts to curtail Wielgus’ summer research and that Kretz threatened to withhold university funding for a plant sciences building unless WSU fired Wielgus.

PEER claims that under state law “a legislator is not permitted to use his/her position or public resources to assist constituents only because he/she has a personal interest in the subject matter or in the constituent’s cause.”

The return of wolves has been highly controversial in Washington state, including Okanogan County, which Kretz, who is also a rancher, represents.

Kretz denies the allegations of ethical improprieties.

“Anybody can file a complaint, and I don’t believe there’s any basis in fact,” Kretz told the Capital Press. He said he will submit a response to the ethics board refuting the claims.

The ethics board will look over the complaint and determine whether to proceed, Kretz said.

The board’s next meeting is Oct. 18.

“We’d like to see a level of sanction or some sort of disciplinary action so that this sort of behavior does not continue with such a high-ranking member of the Legislature,” said PEER’s Carlesco. Kretz is the deputy leader of the House Republican Caucus.

“We would not have filed this if we did not believe there was proper ground for there to be some sort of action on behalf of the legislative ethics board,” Carlesco said.

Kretz said wolf-livestock conflicts have extremists on both sides, with some seeking to kill all wolves and others seeking to protect all wolves.

“I think there’s a solution in the middle,” he said. “I think we can have wolves in the state of Washington, and at the same time, have the livestock industry. That’s what I’m trying to get to. In the meantime, there’s lots of people on the extremes that profit from conflict. That’s what we’re seeing.”

The ethics board will investigate the complaint, and members of the staff will determine whether it should be dismissed or recommend whether there is reasonable cause to believe a violation has been committed, according to the board’s website. The board may dismiss a complaint upon finding that a violation that may have occurred is not within the board’s jurisdiction, the complaint is unfounded or frivolous or a violation was inadvertent or minor or has been cured and further proceedings would not serve the purposes of the board.


Read PEER’s complaint at https://www.peer.org/assets/docs/8_17_17_Kretz_Ethics_Complaint.pdf


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