Ex-Nebraska Brand Committee chairman expected to serve as agency’s new executive director
for Tri-State Livestock News
LINCOLN, Neb. – While an official announcement from the Nebraska Governor’s office or the Nebraska Brand Committee has not be made as of press time Friday, TSLN has confirmed with multiple sources that the chairman of the Nebraska Brand Committee has sent their resignation to the governor’s office and that an official announcement is forthcoming that they have been hired as the agency’s first permanent executive director since 2017.
TSLN confirmed Friday morning that the new executive director will be John Widdowson, a fourth generation cattle rancher from the Gibbon/Kearney area, who was first appointed to the brand committee by Gov. Pete Rickets in 2015, and has served as the committee’s chairman since 2017. When asked about the new job on Thursday evening, Widdowson declined to comment, and said that the decision to make an official announcement would come from the Brand Committee. An announcement from Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts that he will be accepting applications for Widdowson’s now vacant position on the Brand Committee board is expected, but was also not available at press time Friday.
A source familiar with the committee’s thinking who spoke on background said that Widdowson’s experience with the standing up Brand Committee’s electronic brand recording and reporting system was the primary motivating factor in the committee’s decision to hire him, as that program continues to be a priority for the committee members.
The agenda for a Brand Committee special meeting held on Tuesday, Jan. 21, states that the meeting was used to discuss the process for selecting finalists from the 25 applications it had received. Meeting minutes from Jan. 21, indicate that the meeting occurred via teleconference and that Widdowson was not present on the call.
The committee entered executive session shortly after the start of the meeting to “receive confidential legal counsel.” Minutes show that after nearly an hour of discussion, the committee emerged from executive session and passed a motion for Horton to work with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to sort and review the applications for the Executive Director position. Committee member Adam Sawyer appointed fellow committee member Chris Gentry to help with that process, which was approved without objection.
Dave Horton, the committee’s interim director and chief investigator, said Tuesday that of the 25 applications the brand committee had received for the executive director job, the field was narrowed to four candidates, who were then invited to be interviewed by the committee members in Broken Bow on Thursday, Feb. 7. Horton said he was present in Broken Bow, but did not sit in on the interviews, and that three individuals showed up to be interviewed.
Two of the three candidates interviewed were Widdowson and Bill Bunce, the brand committee’s previous director. Bunce had been hired as the Nebraska Brand Committee’s executive director in November 2016, following the resignation of his predecessor, Shawn Harvey, but resigned shortly later in 2017 to focus on family issues.
Horton has occupied the interim director position since Bunce’s exit. Over the last three years, the committee had struggled to find a permanent director, owing to a since-repealed statutory requirement that the brand committee’s executive director also be law enforcement certified in order to serve as the agency’s chief investigator.
LB 660, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, passed during the 2019 legislative session split the roles into two separate positions, allowing the committee to open up the field to find a candidate with the administrative experience it was looking for.