Walker tells The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/Tia03X) that contract workers save the agency money because there are costs for health insurance and pensions.
"The question you need to be asking is, 'Is the state getting a day's work for a day's pay?' not whether people know me," Walker said.
Walker said they are "at-will employees we can move around as we need." He said they are paid for the hours they work.
The newspaper reports seven people from Walker's secluded neighborhood in Ocean Springs have received a total of more than $680,000 since June 2009 from contract jobs at MDMR.
The jobs are not advertised to the general public, Walker said.
D'Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave said he was hired as a contract employee after he told Walker he was looking for work in 2010. A part-time mayor for almost 20 years, Quave was no longer running his convenience store.
"I was looking for a job," he said, "and asked Dr. Walker if anything came up, I would appreciate going to work. And they did have a contract job come up because of the oil spill. Believe me, this wasn't a political job where you sit in an office."
Quave started out working with fishermen after the BP oil spill, but now collects water samples, surveys reefs and does other work for $16.50 an hour. MDMR paid him $29,254 in fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30.
In addition to the MDMR contract work, Quave said he brokers shrimp for a local seafood company and sells mullet roe for a Florida exporter.
Relatives of MDMR employees also work at the agency, although MDMR directors say the hirings comply with the agency's nepotism policy. The nepotism policy prohibits employees from participating in the hiring process for, or supervising, immediate family members, which includes in-laws. It does not prohibit family members from working at DMR.
Walker said his daughter-in-law was hired by MDMR Public Relations Director Lauren Thompson and works as a special projects officer. Trinity Walker, wife of Scott Walker, is paid $27,700 a year, according to state records.
Walker said Thompson also hired Samantha Hebert, the sister of Tina Shumate, MDMR's director of coastal management. Hebert works under contract as a videographer, and has been paid $91,300 since October 2010, state records show.
The newspaper reports most of Walker's neighbors hired under contract have worked at the spotted sea trout and red snapper fish hatchery at the Cedar Point campus of the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs. Hatchery supervisors said the lab is glad to have help with carpentry, feeding fish and growing fish food.
Biloxi attorney Robert Byrd helped Walker set up the Marine Resources Foundation, which owns boats MDMR leases and has paid to run. They are neighbors.
State records show Byrd's two sons and his brother Paul Byrd were employed as contract workers in 2008. One son worked a couple of summers. The other son, Colin Byrd, still works for MDMR.
Colin Byrd told The Sun Herald that the charter-boat service is his full-time business but he works when needed for MDMR. His job at MDMR is to provide construction assistance for the sea trout program at Cedar Point. The contract job has paid him $46,200 for fiscal year 2012, state records show.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com