Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, is interviewed by The Caucus staff on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a new executive director this week after the agency’s former head resigned abruptly on Monday after issues were raised by commissioner members and lawmakers about his business dealings with employees.

Bryan Burhans, who served as its executive director since 2017, was replaced by deputy executive director Stephen Smith, a lawyer who has been with the agency for 16 years.

Burhans, whose resignation was accepted by the board in executive session Monday, came under fire by lawmakers this year for a side business he is establishing and several actions the commission has taken under his leadership.

In a statement from the game commission, Burhans said he resigned for family reasons.

“Every wildlife agency director has a lifespan, with the national average about three years of service,” Burhans said in the statement. “My seven-year tenure is longer than many. I learned from so many great leaders that you must recognize when it’s time to go. Now is my time.”

An attempt to contact Burhans for further comment on Wednesday morning was unsuccessful.

Commission President Scott Foradora, after commending Burhans for his work at the agency, said in the statement, “the board became aware of circumstances beyond job performance that caused us to raise questions about whether a change in leadership would be appropriate.”

He went on: “It recently came to light Bryan had a business relationship with several Game Commission employees and received income through that relationship. That’s not to suggest there were any ethical violations on his part, but there were questions about the appropriateness of those business relationships, and ultimately he chose to resign.”

Burhans admitted during a March 20 hearing before the House Game and Fisheries Committee that he owned a limited liability company after Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks County, confronted him with a printout from the consulting business’ webpage. It listed its hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and included Burhans’ cell phone number.

“How do you do that on PGC time?” Malone asked him.

Burhans said the webpage was a placeholder and not an active business, which on his financial interest statement indicates offers “public speaking, training, wellness coaching, writing [books].”

He told Maloney if the phone rang during the work day at the commission, he wouldn’t answer it. Further, Burhans added, “Nobody’s ever called me because I don’t do anything to the algorithm to build the algorithm.”

But Maloney told PennLive on Wednesday that concerns about Burhans’ side business brought to mind a 2016 ethics violation involving another former Game Commission employee for a conflict of interest that resulted in a $75,000 fine, the largest ethics fine in state history.

In that incident, William Capouillez, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, was found to be negotiating gas drilling leases for private landowners around the state at the same time he was overseeing leases with the same drillers for publicly owned state game lands.

“Here we were in 2024 with the same sort of thing going on,” Maloney said. “We have a mission and we should stay focused on that. When our train gets off the track, we need to get it back. And for me, that’s the problem with the Game Commission. They seem to have lost their way.”

Maloney said he also was the one who raised concern about the commission last year taking 33 employees to Nashville for a conference and using public money for them to go on a pub crawl. “It’s totally illegal to be buying alcohol on state-related business, and a pub crawl is the purchase of alcohol,” he said.

Those weren’t the only controversies in recent months that have put Burhans on the hot seat.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee in February, Burhans found himself peppered with questions about the decision to hire a lobbying firm headed by former Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati at $10,000 a month.

“We haven’t had a state agency, department or commission hire lobbyists since 2007,” said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County.

Burhans defended the hiring as part of the commission’s plan for building relationships with lawmakers to complete its work while it restructured itself to designate more staff members to work with lawmakers.

However, a week after that appearance before the Senate panel, Burhans notified the Senate that the commission was going to let its contract with the lobbying firm Allegheny Strategy Partners expire, given the senators’ concerns about the appropriateness of that use of public funds.

Jan Murphy may be reached at Follow her on X at @JanMurphy.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

What to Read Next

Copyright 2024 Tribune Content Agency.