Torti leaves state government to run business group

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(Host) Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Tom Torti is leaving state government to run a Burlington-area business group.

Torti plans to stay at his state job until after the November elections. He says he’ll avoid potential conflicts of interest between his new job and his current one.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Torti has worked for state government for 27 years. He’s been commissioner of state buildings, and for the past year and a half he’s run the Agency of Natural Resources.

He’ll leave that post in November to lead the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Torti says the biggest challenge facing the Agency is a tight budget that hasn’t kept pace with a growing workload. Over the next five months, Torti says he’ll lead an effort to reorganize the agency.

(Torti) “We are going to be going through a very deliberate process of working with staff, working with citizens to define what are the most important elements of that which we do we need to apply the resources to, and how do make sure those other things get done. Because certainly, everything we do is important. It’s just a matter of assessing priorities.”

(Dillon) Torti was named agency secretary at the start of Governor Douglas’ second term in office. The agency has seen quite a number of secretaries come and go in recent years. And Elizabeth Courtney, the director of he Vermont Natural Resources Council, says the changes aren’t necessarily a good thing.

(Courtney) “It seems to me that the turnover at the secretary’s office at the agency has been unprecedented over the past decade. It’s a situation that reflects an underlying systemic management problem over there. It’s one that the legislature with the leadership of Senator Susan Bartlett is trying to address with the agency re-think effort.”

(Dillon) Torti’s new job places him in charge of one of the leading business advocacy groups in Vermont. The Lake Champlain Chamber has lobbied the legislature and worked with the agency worked on storm water issues, for example.

Torti says he’ll work to avoid potential conflicts of interest between his new job and his current one. He said storm water issues involving the chamber would be handled by environmental commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg.

(Torti) “To the extent that the storm water regs are still making their way through that would go rightfully before Jeff Wennberg. And if there was a secretary sign off that was needed we will assign that to a deputy and I will be out of that process.”

(Dillon) But Sandy Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation sees a clear problem with Torti staying on the state job for five months before he goes to work for the business group.

(Levine) “The head of Vermont’s environmental agency needs to be 100% committed to keeping Vermont’s environment clean. That can’t happen when the secretary has one foot out the door to take a position representing the state’s largest polluters.”

(Dillon) Levine says the regional chamber of commerce represents companies that have air and water pollution problems.

Courtney from the Vermont Natural Resources Council says it remains to be seen how Torti will handle the potential conflicts. She says one big question is how he will work through those issues with his own staff at the Natural Resources Agency.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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