Gov. Spencer Cox announced he was appointing Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, to head up the Utah Department of Natural Resources on June 24. Almost a month since that announcement, Cox’s office hasn’t made that appointment official, even though Ferry is already serving as acting director for the department.
The governor’s office is legally required to send a letter to the Senate announcing the appointment of any cabinet-level position. The Senate must wait 30 days before taking action on the nominee so they can be properly vetted. The Senate must act on the nomination within 90 days.
Following a successful confirmation hearing, the Senate typically holds a final vote on a nominee during their monthly interim meetings.
As of Friday morning, the letter announcing Ferry’s appointment had not been received by the Senate. The next interim day is scheduled for Aug. 17, meaning it’s almost too late for lawmakers to take any official action. Unless they receive the letter by the end of the day Monday, Ferry’s appointment will have to wait until the September interim at the earliest.
Ferry has been serving as acting director of DNR since early July. He is replacing Brian Steed, who is heading up the Institute for Land, Water and Air at Utah State University. According to Utah’s financial transparency website, Steed received nearly $240,000 in total compensation as executive director of DNR in 2021.
Cox’s office told The Tribune they would investigate why Ferry’s appointment was delayed but did not respond before publication.
The failure by Cox’s office to send an appointment letter to the Senate seems unusual. On June 2, he appointed four members to the Utah Board of Higher Education. Confirmation hearings for those nominees are scheduled for Aug. 12, just days before the August interim meetings.
The last cabinet-level appointment made by Cox was handled much more swiftly than Ferry’s nomination. Cox picked Alan Fuller as the new CIO for the Utah Department of Technology Services on March 3, 2021. The full Senate confirmed Fuller to the job on April 14 of that year, just over a month later.
Ferry is not the only member of Cox’s cabinet on the job who has not been officially appointed to the post. Just two days before naming Ferry to head up DNR, Cox appointed Darryle Rude as commissioner for the Utah Department of Financial Institutions. The Utah Senate has not yet received his formal appointment, but he is listed as the interim commissioner on the DFI website.
The letters announcing Cox’s judicial nominees are not experiencing the same delays as his cabinet picks. The same day Cox announced Ferry to lead DNR, he nominated Rick Westmoreland as a judge for the 2nd District Juvenile Court. A few days later, he announced Jill Pohlman was his choice to fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court. Those confirmation hearings are scheduled for July 19 and 26.
Ferry has not resigned his seat in the Legislature despite being appointed to Cox’s cabinet, which seems to violate the separation of powers in Utah’s Constitution. Cox’s office says Ferry’s dual role is of no concern as he has given up any assignments having to do with natural resources and is not taking legislative compensation.
Ferry remains on the November ballot as the Republican nominee in House District 1, and the GOP cannot replace him with another candidate.