Eric Sutton promoted to top spot at Florida wildlife agency

Florida’s wildlife management agency stayed in-house for its new executive director.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Thursday agreed to promote Assistant Executive Director Eric Sutton to replace departing agency chief Nick Wiley. Sutton will start Friday in the new role.

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Commissioner Robert Spottswood of Key West said he saw Sutton’s work ethic the past few years, and more closely after Hurricane Irma, and that he’d prefer the agency avoid a drawn-out search process.

“I’ve always believed in these situations looking within,” Spottswood said. “The idea of long, institutional knowledge, experience, having the confidence of your team members on the first day, and not having to find somebody new to come in and become part of the culture. The culture that this agency has is top notch, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Sutton said he would be “deeply honored,” when asked if he wanted the position.

The commission also agreed to raise Sutton’s annual salary from $132,415 to $147,367 —- matching Wiley’s pay.

Wiley, who had held the top staff position at the agency since 2009, announced last week he had accepted the job of chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited, a Memphis, Tenn.-based nonprofit focused on conserving wetlands and habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. His last day with the commission was Thursday.

Sutton, who has been with the commission since August 2011, previously worked for the Southwest Florida Water Management District as director of land resources.

Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski, who is also leaving the agency, praised Wiley and said he expects Sutton to ably fill his shoes.

“He has the right temperament, I think, for this job,” Yablonski said of Sutton. “It’s not an easy job, dealing with a lot of external folks, and they’re not always happy, but they want to be heard and they want it to be transparent and they want to know that what they say counts and matters, and Eric’s personality and leadership style is such that it brings folks together rather than divides folks.”

The commission also voted to have Commissioner Bo Rivard of Panama City replace Yablonski as chairman and for Spottswood to serve as vice chairman.

Yablonski, a Gulf Power external affairs director and one-time policy director for former Gov. Jeb Bush, has taken a job as executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont.

Yablonski joked that the changes on the commission would mean “real professionals” were now at the helm.

Rivard is a partner with the law firm Harrison Rivard Duncan & Buzzett.

Spottswood is chief executive officer of Key West-based Spottswood Companies Inc.

Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints the commissioners, named Sonya Rood of St. Augustine to the commission last week to replace Aliese P. “Liesa” Priddy, who had been the vice chairwoman.

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