Some of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's nominations for key positions in state government are being held up in a Senate committee because lawmakers say the Democratic governor is not communicating effectively with them.
The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee on Wednesday held up nominees for the state agriculture director, highway commissioner and two members of the State Board of Education for at least one week. Committee members said they were frustrated by recent decisions in the Nixon administration that were made without consultation with the Republican-controlled Legislature.
"We are trying to figure out what is the best way to get the governor's office to engage with us seriously," said committee chairman and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey.
A spokesman for Nixon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the delayed nominations.
Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said all the nominees would be considered again next week.
Nixon nominated Richard Fordyce in December to take over at the Department of Agriculture, which had been with a leader since October. While senators were complimentary of the northwestern Missouri farmer, they disagree with a department proposal to allow gas stations to sell fuel with a higher ethanol blend.
The Agriculture Department issued a rule last year to let stations sell gas with a 15 percent ethanol blend, but a legislative panel delayed it in October over concerns that it conflicted with a 2006 state law requiring most Missouri gasoline to contain a 10 percent mix.
Lawmakers said they should be the ones to make the decision about ethanol content in gasoline, but Fordyce said during a legislative hearing Wednesday that the department had the authority to implement the change on its own.
Committee members were similarly complimentary of Nixon's appointees to the State Board of Education but held their nominations because of concerns about recent actions by Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who is hired by the board.
Nicastro has been criticized for her involvement with a ballot measure that would end teacher tenure and require student performance to guide employment decisions. Lawmakers have also questioned the way she negotiated a contract with a consulting firm last year to improve the failing Kansas City schools. The bid went to a firm that was nearly three times as expensive as the closest competitor.
"The void of leadership over there is making navigating in this current environment very difficult," said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah.
The commissioner has insisted she took no position on the initiative and just provided information to the group sponsoring it.
She has said the consultant's contract involving the Kansas City district could have been handled differently, but has stuck by her decision.
The education board nominees - Joseph Driskill, a former Economic Development Department Director, and Victor Lenz, a former school superintendent - told senators they would consider making personnel changes if they were appointed, but made no firm commitment.
Fordyce, Driskill and Lenz are serving in their positions but need Senate confirmation to remain in their posts.
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, held up Gregg Smith's nomination to the State Highways and Transportation Commission because she said she wanted more time to consider his appointment. She also expressed frustration about the level of communication between the governor and the Legislature.
The committee did vote to advance the nominations of a former Nixon aide and former Democratic House member to the state's utility regulatory board and the Human Rights Commission, respectively. It also endorsed Gail Vasterling to continue serving as health department director. The full Senate still needs to confirm those nominations.