Alaska alcohol control board takes step to oust director

October 3, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The board that regulates alcohol in Alaska voted Thursday to oust its director, though the law also gives the state’s marijuana regulatory board a say.

The boards share Erika McConnell as director. This summer, the Marijuana Control Board held a vote of confidence in McConnell, according to meeting minutes and chairman Mark Springer. Springer said he stands by that motion.

Before Thursday’s vote to boot McConnell by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, chairman Bob Klein praised McConnell’s work ethic and administrative skills. But he said he sees a disconnect between the board’s wishes and how McConnell approaches her position.

During the meeting, McConnell read aloud a letter to the board, defending her work and her staff. She said the board met privately in April for her evaluation but that the evaluation had never been provided to her verbally or in writing.

The law also states that a governor may remove the director for circumstances such as misconduct. In such a case, the governor is to provide the director with a copy of the charges and an opportunity to be publicly heard.

In a letter to commerce Commissioner Julie Anderson, McConnell’s attorney, Libby Bakalar, wrote the state constitution and case law show that because the boards are regulatory and quasi-judicial agencies, they are to remain free of “executive interference under basic separation of powers principles.” The boards fall under the commerce department.

Bakalar separately is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy, alleging she was wrongly terminated as an attorney with the state Department of Law when Dunleavy took office.

Anderson was critical of a proposed regulation by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board that would restrict onsite activities at breweries and distilleries. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Anderson expressed concern the proposal was overly restrictive.

The paper quoted McConnell as saying the changes were proposed to “better reflect the legislative intent that these licenses are manufacturers, not retailers.”

A decision announced under the prior administration by the state Department of Public Safety, to no longer allow investigators from the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office access to certain databases for crime reporting and information, also caused tension.

In memos to the boards in April and May, McConnell said the department agreed to provide specific information in the databases when requested for cases by investigators in her office. She said some information had been provided timely but that some requests had been ignored or gone unfilled.