Changes have been made in the director positions at the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Gov. John Kasich announced Nov. 15, that ODA Director James Zehringer would become director of ODNR that afternoon. Tony Forshey, the state veterinarian for the past six years, was named interim director of ODA.
Zehringer replaces David Mustine, who now oversees energy development efforts at JobsOhio. Assistant Director Scott Zody has served as interim director of ODNR since Mustine’s departure on Sept. 7.
Zehringer said he will be dealing with many of the same issues at ODNR, such as water quality management, exotic animals, and pests to crops and woodlots.
“There are a lot of similarities between the agencies and the governor and I thought it was a good fit,” Zehringer said.
Prior to his service at ODA, Zehringer was the state representative for the 77th House District and is the former owner and operator of the Meiring Poultry and Fish Farm in Fort Recovery.
One of his biggest accomplishments with ODA was serving on the livestock care standards board, and helping guide the board in completing its first standards. He also managed a tight budget, while continuing to promote food safety, he said.
Rob Nichols, spokesman for the governor’s office said the need was there in the ODNR office and Zehringer was able to fill it because he is well versed in everything happening with that department.
“The governor thinks the world of Zehringer and he knows that he can get the job done,” said Nichols.
Nichols said the ODNR and ODA are dealing with some of the same issues which will make it a seamless transition for Zehringer.
When asked if this meant that the ODNR and ODA will be combing as a way to cut costs, Nichols pointed out that is not to be inferred from this move, but nothing is ever off the table.
“That’s not going to happen at this time,” Zehringer said, adding the two departments may look at some “shared services” in the information technology sector, but there will be “no merging of the departments right now.”
Candidates and dates for appointing a new director of agriculture are unknown, but Zehringer guesses it will happen before the next livestock care board meeting, which is set for March.
Meanwhile, Forshey, who had been the vice chairman to the care board, will serve as its chairman until a director a director is named.
Forshey said it will “not be an easy job” to find a replacement for Zehringer, but Forshey said his move to interim director will be eased by his 30-plus years as a veterinarian, and six years as the state veterinarian working closely with ODA staff.
“This is going to be a fairly easy transition,” he said. “(We’re) going to keep ODA moving forward just as Director Zehringer did and keep the trains on the track. There will be a real continuity.”
In other changes, former ODA Communications Director Andy Ware is now a deputy director at ODNR, and former ODA Public Information Officer Erica Pitchford is now ODA’s interim chief of communications.
Fred Shimp, former assistant director at ODA, is now assistant director at ODNR.
Other staff updates and details will be posted as they become available.