Gov. Phil Bryant has chosen former congressional aide Jamie Miller to lead the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
Bryant made the announcement Tuesday at the MDMR headquarters in Biloxi.
Miller, 40, has previously served as district director and chief of staff for Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, Pascagoula deputy city manager and a coastal ecologist for MDMR.
Miller has also worked for Bryant and Gov. Haley Barbour helping run the state’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina.
“”I have taken this appointment very seriously and believe MDMR’s success is vital to the Gulf Coast and to the management of Mississippi’s coastal resources,” Bryant said. “It is important for the next executive director to have proven management experience, extensive disaster response and recovery experience and solid grant management experience. My choice for executive director has both knowledge and experience.”
After the announcement, Miller called for a 60-day agency evaluation and assessment.
“Starting today, we press the reset button,” he said. “This assessment will try to get to the heart of how decisions are made within the organization, how funds are spent and how they’re accounted for and how effective we are in managing those resources.”
Miller said he is “determined to set a course for the future of DMR that will get us on the right track and keep us there.”
Miller promised Tuesday to be “transparent and accountable” to the public.
“This department is facing a lot of challenges,” he said, “challenges to the agency’s credibility, challenges to restore the public’s trust in its ability to carry out its mission, challenges to be the best steward of the taxpayers’ money.”
The executive director’s post has been open since former Executive Director Bill Walker, of Ocean Springs, was terminated Jan. 15 amid allegations of misspending by the MDMR. Deputy Director Danny Guice served as interim director after Walker’s departure.
Miller must be confirmed by state senators. Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, the chairman of the Senate Ports and Marine Resources Committee, said his committee would probably take the nomination up in coming days.
“I think the governor has made a good choice,” Wiggins said.
The senator said some would question whether Miller, with ties to the agency and the coastal political establishment, was enough of an outsider to clean up the agency’s spending.
“I think certainly there will be questions of that nature,” Wiggins said. “It’s our duty to ask those questions.”
The agency, created in 1994, has more than 140 employees, other contract workers and an annual state funding appropriation of about $19 million, according to state Department of Finance and Administration.
MDMR receives millions in federal money for coastal preservation and restoration projects. It has law enforcement jurisdiction over coastal waterways.
The agency has also handled distribution of millions of dollars received from BP since the 2010 oil spill, and much more money from the oil company is likely on the way.
The RESTORE Act will result in 80 percent of the BP penalties being given to impacted Gulf states. It’s projected there could be $5 billion to $21 billion split among Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Florida.