Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources: In Transition

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR), has been the focus of contention for the last several years. One of the first acts the state’s last governor, Matt Blunt, did when he first came to office back in 2005 was fire most of the DNR’s upper management—including the director, Steve Mahood, who was greatly respected in the environmental community. Mahood eventually went on to a position with the Nature Conservancy.

In Mahood’s place, Blunt appointed Doyle Childers, a long time Republican Missouri State Senator. Childer’s appointment was not without controversy, primarily because of his business focus, and by his lack of natural resource management experience. The controversy around Childers was exacerbated by his own politically motivated actions as regards to two specific events related to the DNR: the Taum Sauk dam break, and the Boonville Bridge.

The Boonville Bridge is an old train bridge outside the town of Boonville that advocates wanted to restore and include as part of the Katy Trail. However, Union Pacific wanted the bridge condemned so it could recover the steel used in its construction. Childers, in his position at DNR, supported the Union Pacific. Governor Jay Nixon, in his role, then, as state Attorney General, filed a lawsuit to stop the Union Pacific, contending that the bridge was deeded to the Katy Trail effort. When I last checked this item, the appeals court had sided with the DNR, the case was headed to the State Supreme court, and bridge supporters were looking for compromises, such as letting the Union Pacific have the steel, but keeping the bridge.

The Boonville Bridge wasn’t the only time that Childers and Nixon clashed. Following the Ameren Taum Sauk dam break, which caused devastating damage to the state’s Johnson’s Shut-Ins state park, both Childers in the DNR and Nixon as state Attorney General fought over who had control over the litigation related to the event. Nixon, as Attorney General should have been the obvious choice, but Childers accused Nixon of taking campaign contributions from Ameren. Of course, we later found out that the money came to Nixon indirectly, from general Democratic campaign organizations; that the campaign contributions were part of Ameren’s stock donations it makes to all political parties. In addition, Matt Blunt and his father, both, also received campaign contributions from Ameren. Regardless, the Childers accusation ended up being one of this state’s uglier events in the last few years, and also formed part of the unsuccessful election campaign against Nixon.

No surprise, then, that when Jay Nixon won the election for Governor that Childers signaled that he would be resigning, taking one last parting shot in the process

Childers said he and Nixon have had an openly contentious relationship and that he would have been able to do more as the director of the DNR had he not been in continuous conflict with Nixon.

He said his time at the department was consumed by fights with Nixon. One confrontation was over a proposal to tear down the Katy Trail railroad bridge that crosses the Missouri River near Boonville, and another involved the cleanup of Johnson Shut-Ins State Park after a dam holding back the Taum Sauk Reservoir burst in Southeast Missouri.

“It made for more complications,” Childers said. “The Boonville bridge, well, we beat him three times in court on that. It took up a lot of our time and effort. After that, Johnson Shut-Ins took a huge amount of time.”

He said it’s “no secret” that he and Nixon had been at odds.

“He’s a good politician — an excellent politician — but I do not have a lot of respect for him as an individual,” Childers said.

Of course, it was a given that Nixon would fire Childers, but Nixon also replaced many of the upper management in the DNR, as well as all DNR ombudsmen. The question on everyone’s mind at that point was: who Nixon would pick to be the new director of the DNR? The farmers had their own idea as to a good candidate, as did the environmental groups.

On January 12th, we had our answer: Mark Templeton. The response was a resounding, “Who?”, as people and organizations scrambled to find what they could about this surprising choice.

What is known, based on the resume provided by Governor Nixon’s office, and what can be deduced from online searches is that Mark N. Templeton is a 39 year old former Missouri citizen, who attended both Harvard and Yale before getting a degree in law. According to the bio at the DNR

A native of Olivette, Mo., Mr. Templeton developed environmental and sustainability strategies during his tenure with McKinsey & Company, a global management consultancy headquartered in New York. From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Templeton worked with clients to explore new, “green” markets for products and services and develop next-generation jobs in the environmental and energy sectors. While at McKinsey, Mr. Templeton advised major organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors, including the United Nations Development Programme’s Commission on the Private Sector and Development. In 2005, Mr. Templeton left McKinsey to become associate dean and chief operating office of Yale Law School, his alma mater.

As associate dean and chief operating officer at Yale Law, Mr. Templeton managed more than 200 administrative personnel and an annual budget of $105 million. Among other duties, Mr. Templeton was responsible for approving departmental budgets, monitoring accounts and negotiating with other academic and administrative units.

Prior to joining McKinsey, Mr. Templeton was special assistant and senior adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and an adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. He worked as office director of the Human Rights Documentation Center in Bangkok, Thailand, from 1999 to 2000 and as a research associate with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center in New Delhi in 1997.

Mr. Templeton, 39, earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1994 and his juris doctorate from Yale Law in 1999. He graduated from Horton Watkins High School.

Mr. Templeton and his wife, Kathy Dull, also a Missouri native, have two young children, Paisley and Graham.

An impressive background, but one that left everyone scratching their heads in wonderment as to Templeton’s qualification to running a department related to natural resources. Contrary to conservative opinion, Templeton is just as much an unknown the environmentalists as he is to the farmers.

What we have been able to find, primarily through determined Google searches, is that Mark N. Templeton is not Mark Templeton, the CEO or Citrix Systems. “Our” Mark Templeton has a law degree and is a member of the California Bar. His work with “green” jobs took place with McKinsey & Company, and since McKinsey is infamous for not divulging information about its clients, we may never know who Templeton worked with.

Before the McKinsey consulting gig, Templeton worked for the State Department, as well advising the US delegation to the UN. After his tenure at McKinsey, Templeton took a job as Chief Operating Officer at Yale University.

One other piece of information about our new Director of Missouri’s DNR that was not part of the public resume provided by Governor Nixon or the DNR, is that Mark Templeton is an original founder, and former director, of a company named Cobra Legal Solutions—a firm that specializes in outsourcing legal work for American corporations to India. Templeton is still listed as original founder and early investor, but the reference to his position as Acting Executive Directory has since been removed from the web site.

Cobra Legal Solutions: Founders and Investors - Mozilla Firefox 3.1 Beta 2
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Cobra Legal Solutions - Mozilla Firefox 3.1 Beta 2
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

I have a request into the DNR about Templeton’s current financial association with Cobra Legal Solutions, and the communications department responded with a note that they would check with him this week, since his first day at work at the DNR was Monday. When I have more information, I’ll provide an update.

Why was Mark Templeton picked to be the new Director of the Department of Natural Resources? It’s obvious that he does not bring with him any background in management of natural resources, or the environment, or even science, in general. According to Governor Nixon, Templeton’s focus within the DNR will be more on alternative energy and jobs, than day to day DNR management (Joplin Globe):

Said Nixon: “Finding new energy solutions and protecting our natural resources are the keys to Missouri’s environmental and economic future. Here in Missouri, we’re perfectly positioned to harness multiple new forms of energy, including wind, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric and biofuels. These energy solutions will lessen our dependence on foreign oil, create next-generation jobs and help turn this economy around.

“Mark Templeton has helped governmental, business and nonprofit groups find the links between environmental stewardship, alternative energy and sound business practices, and he will bring that cutting-edge thinking to our Department of Natural Resources.”

Sometimes the best way to end acrimonious and persistent contention is to surprise all of the players. In this regard, Nixon’s appointment of Mark Templeton is already a success. Whether Templeton will continue to enjoy success in his new role, though, is anyone’s guess.

Hearings to confirm Mark Templeton’s appointment as Director of DNR began on Wednesday. Unfortunately, there’s no public record of this session that I can find.

Mark Templeton was confirmed to the position at the DNR. I must admit to being somewhat surprised at the level of disinterest about Templeton’s involvement with Cobra Legal Solutions, particularly since the only reason he seems to have been hired was to generate jobs.

Mark Templeton’s name has been removed from the Cobra Legal Systems web site, as founder and investor. Surprising, because whatever his association with the group, he’s still an original founder, and investor.

Money Technology

The affordable Macs

Apple has finally wised up to the economy and has rolled out affordable versions of the iMac, the Mac Mini, and MacPro.

The Mac Mini could end up being a TV box killer, especially with the space and CPU. Unlike the AppleTV, you can have your iTunes, and Hulu, too. But it’s the iMac that interests me. My computers are getting borderline too old, especially since neither of my laptops will work with the new version of the Mac OS that will be releasing some time this year.

Now, I just have to convince you all to buy a LOT of my books so I can get one.


Amazon VOD on Roku, Boxee out

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Roku has announced today that the Amazon Video On Demand software update will be rolling out over the next five days. With this update, people can now access their Amazon VOD videos directly on the Roku box.

I haven’t seen the update on either of my two Roku boxes, but I’m not a favorite of the Roku folks, and don’t expect to be one of the first to get updated. When I do have access, I’ll write up a review.

I had planned on writing a review of Boxee on my AppleTV, but have removed it after the recent AppleTV upgrade. Once Boxee lost access to Hulu, it lost most of its key content, and the value it adds as compared to the hassles of having to install, and maintain, it on the AppleTV, just isn’t that high. Too bad, too, as it’s a nice service. I imagine it was too much competition for the paid content on AppleTV.


Drupal and OpenID

I have been focused on OpenID implementations lately, specifically in WordPress and Drupal. The Drupal effort is for my own sites.

Until this weekend, I had turned off new user registration at my Drupal sites, because I get too many junk user registrations. However, to incorporate OpenID into a Drupal site, you have to allow users to register themselves, regardless of whether they use OpenID or not.

I think this all or nothing approach actually limits the incorporation of OpenID within a Drupal site. If you limit registration to administrator’s only, then people can’t use their OpenIDs unless the administrator gets involved. If you allow people to self-register, there’s nothing to stop the spammy registrations.

I believe that OpenID should be an added, optional field attached to the comment form, allowing one to attach one’s OpenID directly to a comment, which then creates a limited user account within the site specifically for the purposes of commenting. Rather than just providing options to allow a user to register themselves, or not, add another set of options specific to OpenID, and allow us to filter new registrations based on the use of OpenID.

Currently, the new user registration options in Drupal 6x are:

  • Only site administrators can create new user accounts.
  • Visitors can create accounts and no administrator approval is required.
  • Visitors can create accounts but administrator approval is required.

Turn on the latter two options and you’ll get spammy registrations within a day. Not many, but annoying. I believe there should be a fourth and fifth option:

  • Visitors can create accounts using OpenID, only, and no administrator approval is required.
  • Visitors can create accounts using OpenID, only, but administrator approval is required.

With these new options, I could then open up new user registration for OpenID, but without having to allow generic new user registration for the account spammers that seem to be so prevalent with Drupal.

To attempt to implement this customized functionality at my sites, I’ve been playing with Drupal hooks, but the change is a little more extensive than just incorporating a hook handler and a few lines of code, at least for someone who is relatively new to Drupal module development like I am.

Taking the simplest route that I could implement as a stand-alone module, what I’m trying now is to modify the new user registration forms so that only the OpenID registration links display. You’ll see this, currently, in the sidebar if you access the site and you’re not logged in. Unfortunately, you have to click on the OpenID link to open the OpenID field, because I’m still trying to figure out how to remove the OpenID JavaScript that hides the field (there is a function to easily add a JavaScript library, but not one to remove an added library).

With my module-based modifications, rather than a person having to click a link to create a new account, and specify a username and password, they would provide their OpenID, and I would automatically assign them a username via autoregistration. To try my new sidebar module, I decided to turn my Drupal sites into OpenID providers, as well as clients, and use one of them as a test case. Provider functionality is not built in, but there is an OpenID provider module, which I downloaded and activated with my test Drupal installation (MissouriGreen).

I tried my new module and OpenID autoregistration but ran into a problem: the Drupal client does not like either the username or email provided via the Drupal OpenID provider. Why? Because the OpenID identifier used in the registration consists of the URL of the Provider, which is the URL of the Drupal site I used for my test, and the Drupal client does not like my using a URL. In addition, the provider also didn’t provide an email address.

Digging into the client side code, I discovered that the Drupal OpenID client supports an OpenID extension, Simple Registration. Simple Registration provides for an exchange of the 9 most requested information between the OpenID client and provider: nickname, email, full name, dob (date of birth), gender, postcode, country, language, and timezone. With Simple Registration, you can specify which of the items is optional and which mandatory, and the current OpenID client wants nickname and email.

By using Simple Registration on the provider, I could then provide the two things that my Drupal OpenID client wanted: nickname and email. Unfortunately, though, the current version of the OpenID provider doesn’t support Simple Registration. I was a little surprised by this, as I had made an assumption that the Drupal OpenID provider would work with the Drupal OpenID client. However, OpenID is in a state of flux, so such gaps are to be expected.

Further search among the Drupal Modules turned up another module, the Drupal Simple Registration module, which allows one to set the mandatory and optional fields passed as part of the OpenID authentication exchange. The only problem is that the OpenID Provider also doesn’t have any incorporated hooks, which would allow the Simple Registration module to provide the Simple Registration data as part of the response. To add these hooks, the Simple Registration module developer also supplied a patch that can be run against the OpenID Provider code to add the hook.

I applied the patch and opened the module code and confirmed that it had been modified to incorporate the hook. I then tried using the Drupal site as OpenID provider again, but the registration process still failed. Further tests showed that the Simple Registration data still was not being sent.

All I really want to do is test the autoregistration process, so I abandoned the Drupal OpenID provider, and decided to try out some other providers. However, I had no success with either my Yahoo account or my Google GMail account, even though I believed both provided this functionality. The Yahoo account either didn’t send the Simple Registration fields or failed to do so in a manner that the Drupal OpenID client could understand. The Gmail account just failed, completely, with no error message specifying why it failed.

I felt like BarbieOpenID is hard!

I finally decided to use phpMyID, which is a dirt simple, single user OpenID application that we can host, ourselves. I had this installed at one time, pulled it, and have now re-installed at my base root directory. I added the autodiscovery tags to my main web page, and uncommented the lines in the MyID.config.php file for the nickname, full name, and email Simple Registration fields. I then tried “” for OpenID autoregistration at RealTech. Eureka! Success.

The new user registration is still currently blocked at creation, but the site now supports autoregistration via OpenID. Unfortunately, though, the registration spammers can still access the full account creation page, so I can still get spammy registrations. However, I believe that this page can be blocked in my mandatory OpenID module, with a little additional work; at least until I can see about possibly creating a module that actually does add the OpenID only options I mentioned above. The people who generate spammy user account registrations could use OpenID themselves, but the process is much more complex, and a lot more controlled at the provider endpoint, so I think this will help me filter out all but the most determined spammy registrations.

Once all of this is working, I’ll see about adding the OpenID login field to the comment form, rather than in the sidebar. If one wonders, though, why there isn’t more use of OpenID, one doesn’t have to search far to find the answers. Luckily for Drupal users, OpenID seems to be an important focus of this week’s DrupalCon in Washington DC, including a specialized Code Sprint.