SPRINGFIELD – A top administrator at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said Friday he was forced to resign last week because of his doctor-ordered participation in professional fishing tournaments while on sick leave.
Travis Loyd said he did nothing wrong and fishing was part of his recovery from a chronic illness that threatened his life if he didn’t reduce stress. IDNR would only say that Loyd violated rules under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Loyd, the former deputy director in charge of mines and minerals, said he faced additional strain last year as lawmakers, bureaucrats and interest groups wrangled over writing rules governing hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or “fracking.”
As a result, he took 44 days off work during the summer months under the federal medical-leave law, and with his doctor’s encouragement, participated in several pro fishing tournaments.
The 42-year-old from Kinmundy in south-central Illinois said his boss knew and approved of his pro bass fishing career on the FLW Outdoors Inc., tour – the major leagues of professional fishing.
“It was a political hit on me,” Loyd said, claiming media reports about the issue embarrassed Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration in an election year.
IDNR spokesman Chris McCloud said Loyd resigned from his $92,000-a-year job Feb. 8 after the agency learned about “a violation of FMLA policies.” He would not say which policy was in question. Quinn’s office referred questions to IDNR.
“All state employees are required to follow the rules that govern state employee benefit time,” McCloud said. “While the agency was aware of Mr. Loyd’s professional fishing career, state policies define how medical leave can be used.”
Loyd said the agency claims he violated an IDNR policy that prohibits taking medical leave “for the purpose of seeking or taking employment elsewhere or operating a private business.” McCloud would not confirm that.
“There were no rules broken,” Loyd said. “I did exactly what the policy told me to do and I did it under doctor’s orders.”
Loyd said he’s also indicated his secondary income from pro fishing on his last three statements of economic interest. He said his love of hunting and fishing helped get him the IDNR job, which he held for 3 ½ years.
He said he blacked out at work May 8 and went to his doctor, who diagnosed a chronic but dangerous illness which Loyd declined to disclose, except to say it threatened the functioning of one or more of his organs. The doctor ordered him to find a “stress-free zone,” he said.
“I told her the best stress-free zone with no phone was in my boat, fishing,” Loyd said.
Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
Contact John O’Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor