OLYMPIA – A northeast Washington legislator didn’t violate ethics rules by criticizing research by a Washington State University wolf expert, opposing money for that work and suggesting he could be fired, the Legislative Ethics Board ruled.
Dismissed was a complaint against Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, for his long-running criticism and opposition to research by Dr. Rob Wielgus, including his efforts to restrict state money for that research and support for money to the University of Washington for other research to discredit it.
“Legislators commonly express their support for or opposition to various state programs through the appropriations process,” the board said in its ruling. They can redirect money or shift functions from one agency to another, so moving money for a study from WSU to UW is not an ethical violation, the board said.
Wielgus is an expert on wolves at the WSU Large Carnivore Laboratory. In a recently announced settlement of his lawsuit over the university’s alleged infringement of his academic freedom, Wielgus accepted $300,000 from WSU and will leave the university at the end of the semester.
Kretz represents northeast Washington counties where wolf packs are growing rapidly, generating complaints from ranchers about the loss of livestock and demands for the state to reduce the packs by killing some wolves.
The complaint was filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an organization based in Washington, D.C.
Kretz opposed Wielgus’ research, which contends that killing members of a wolf pack actually increases predation on livestock, and supported UW research that said Wielgus’s study was statistically unsupported. He described Wielgus as brilliant, but biased, and told the board in a written statement that he once “opined that I thought (he) should be fired for his actions, but that is up to (WSU).”
Shifting money from WSU to UW is not an ethical violation, the board said. Legislators can disagree with each other or with decisions the majority makes, and those disagreements can continue for years.
“Even if true, Rep. Kretz’s alleged dislike of Dr. Wielgus, his research or the Large Carnivore Laboratory does not constitute an ethical violation,” the board said. The actions taken by Kretz regarding Wielgus and the laboratory “are part of his core duties as a legislator.”
A legislator can’t use “improper means” to influence a state agency, and that could include a comment that an employee should be fired, but there wasn’t any evidence Kretz had done that, the board said.
“Rep. Kretz sought no special treatment or private gain, and made his statements based on policy advocacy and to bring what he viewed as employee misconduct to light,” the board said.