Pritzker Taps Political Scion as New Head of Illinois Department of … – WTTW News

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Natalie Phelps Finnie. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)Natalie Phelps Finnie. (Courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

Pending confirmation by the Illinois Senate, Natalie Phelps Finnie is poised to become just the second woman to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, following in the trailblazing footsteps of her immediate predecessor Colleen Callahan.

Callahan stepped down Jan. 16 at the request of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, having served in the position since spring 2019. Phelps Finnie has been deputy director of the department since August 2021, overseeing the Office of Land Management (including parks and historic sites), legislative affairs, the Office of Oil and Gas Management and the Office of Mines and Minerals.

If confirmed, Phelps Finnie will inherit a department that’s better funded and better staffed than it has been in decades, though it’s still playing catch-up on a backlog of maintenance needs. At the same time, IDNR is being asked to tackle the heavy lifting on projects including the state’s “30 by 30” conservation plan and the state’s water plan.

The Phelps name is well known in political circles in southern Illinois, where Phelps Finnie was born and raised and still lives with her husband and three children. Her father, David Phelps, and cousin, Brandon Phelps, both were elected to the Illinois House, representing the 118th District for nearly 30 years combined.

Phelps Finnie was tapped to serve out her cousin’s term from 2017 to 2019 when he stepped down due to health concerns, but she lost her bid in 2018 to retain the seat.

Professionally, Phelps Finnie has undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing. Her education in biological sciences will be “useful in policy decisions concerning the environment and conservation,” IDNR said in a statement announcing Phelps Finnie’s appointment.

Her husband, Kyle Finnie, is a third-generation ranch owner and also works as a real estate agent specializing in “farm, ranch, dairy stockyards, hunting and timberland properties.” The couple also own and operate a lumber mill, Rose Creek Lumber. 

“As deputy director of the agency, Natalie has worked with our ethics officer and legal team to ensure she recuses herself from any direct policy decisions that have an actual or potential conflict of interest, and she will continue to do so as director,” an IDNR spokesperson told WTTW News.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]


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January 24, 2023 at 05:46PM

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