Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s office has warned the state Game Commission not to consider promoting a senior official in charge of wildlife-habitat management to executive director, citing ethics questions.
Corbett’s objection came this week as the state attorney general’s office weighs whether to approve a $220,000 Game Commission payment to its recently retired executive director, Carl Roe, to settle potential legal claims against each other.
On Tuesday, Corbett’s first executive deputy general counsel, Jarad Handelman, wrote to the Game Commission’s chief counsel, Bradley Bechtel, to urge him “in the strongest possible terms” to advise commissioners against considering William Capouillez for the top post.
Handelman said it’s clear that the State Ethics Commission is investigating whether Capouillez had a conflict of interest stemming from his off-hours business negotiating oil and gas leases for private landowners with companies he frequently engaged as a Game Commission employee.
The private and public roles project “a profoundly troubling appearance of impermissible commingling of public responsibility and private pecuniary interest,” Handelman wrote.
He also pointed out that the state’s general counsel in 2010, Barbara Adams, made the same point in a letter to the commission’s executive director at the time.
The Game Commission’s board president, Robert Schlemmer, told Lancaster Newspapers that he agreed with Handelman that it is a matter of serious concern, but he said it’s premature to object since the investigation is unfinished.
As director of the bureau of wildlife-habitat management, Capouillez negotiates gas, oil and mineral lease agreements on state game lands. Regardless of how the ethics investigation turns out, Handelman wrote, Capouillez’s conduct raises “grave ethical concerns.”
Ethics Commission executive director Robert Caruso said he can’t confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation or that the agency received a complaint about Capouillez.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said Friday he requested an Ethics Commission investigation of Capouillez last year after reading news stories about Capouillez’ work and hearing complaints from a former game commissioner, among others.
Capouillez told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he disclosed the business, Geological Assessment & Leasing LLC, in state ethics filings and doesn’t do any private work on state time.
Schlemmer wouldn’t identify the four finalists for the job or say whether Capouillez was among them. Still, if Capouillez is a finalist, it would only be fair to postpone a hiring decision until the investigation is finished, Schlemmer told Lancaster Newspapers.
Capouillez sent Lancaster Newspapers a statement saying he’s shocked and disappointed by the letter from Corbett’s office.
“Our board of commissioners hasn’t even voted on a new executive director yet, nor has the Ethics Commission completed their investigations,” Capouillez wrote. “Yet it certainly seems as though there are many other influences and motivations at play than what is evident in the letter.”