At behest of governor’s office, Missouri DNR created new senior post for Parson aide

Ryan Conway outranks several environmental attorneys with far more experience

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 27, 2021 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office).

Gov. Mike Parson’s office directed the state’s Department of Natural Resources to create a new senior counsel position for an employee leaving the governor’s team, The Missouri Independent has learned. 

Ryan Conway, who worked as special counsel in Parson’s office since receiving his law license in 2018, started at DNR in March, according to an email sent to staff welcoming him to the department’s office of general counsel.

The email announcing his arrival made no mention of the provenance of his hiring, but DNR employees were informed on a conference call that Conway was being brought on at the behest of Parson’s office.

Not only was the department asked to hire him, but to create a new senior-level position for him.

Conway outranks and is paid more than more seasoned DNR employees, ruffling feathers within the department. Employees who spoke with The Independent said DNR did not offer interviews to those already in the department.

A spokeswoman for the department did not deny the circumstances around Conway’s hiring, nor did she answer questions submitted via email. Instead, she provided an email, written by DNR General Counsel Jacob Westen, welcoming Conway to the new position.

“I am excited to announce that we have a new team member joining our General Counsel’s Office!” Westen wrote.

Conway received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2014 and a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2017. 

Conway grew up in the St. Louis area, and his mother, Kathie Conway, is a former House member from St. Charles County. 

The state’s accountability portal shows Conway’s last paycheck from DNR was $3,034.17. The department did not confirm his salary, but over 24 pay periods, that totals more than $72,800. As senior counsel, Conway responds to DNR’s Sunshine Law requests and assists the Division of Energy and the Missouri Geological Survey.

In Parson’s office, Conway primarily handled “Sunshine Law requests, administrative rule making and boards and commission appointments,” according to the email announcing his arrival. Last year, Conway earned about $50,500.

The governor’s office was his first job out of law school.

Several DNR attorneys with anywhere between 10 and 35 years of experience make thousands less than Conway, according to the state’s accountability portal. 

One attorney who has been practicing for decades, including several years at DNR, makes about $67,600.

Parson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.