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Missouri Auditor Slams Conservation Agency for Payout

State Auditor Nicole Galloway has released an audit criticizing the Missouri Department of Conservation for paying out more than $120,000 to a former director.

Robert Ziehmer received money and benefits for months after he left the state agency for the private sector that appeared to be unnecessary and costly, according to the audit released Thursday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that part of that 10-month deal allowed Ziehmer to keep his health insurance and collect pension credits, which was "not in the best interest of the MDC or taxpayers," the audit found.

The department defended the deal, saying the money Ziehmer received was reimbursement for compensatory time he had earned.

"The commission believes that the separation and release agreement was appropriate ... and the terms and conditions were in the department's best interest," the agency said in a response included with the audit.

The department has, however, changed how it pays comp time. It will now pay employees money they're owed annually, instead of as one lump sum at the end of their tenure.

Ziehmer left the department in 2016 to direct the Johnny Morris Foundation, a conservation group connected to Bass Pro Shops.

The Post-Dispatch previously reported that the payout may have been meant to head off possible legal action by Ziehmer against the department. The agreement included a clause that the payout was meant to settle "any claims and causes of action that were or could have been asserted by the employee against MDC."

The audit also criticized the department, which is funded through a special sales tax, for allowing its employees and commissioners use state airplanes to get to meetings. The department said plane travel was a necessary expense, according to the report.

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