Concern raised with direction of regulatory board

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Wednesday, July 2, 2014 10:24pm
  • News

JUNEAU — A former director of the agency that regulates Alaska’s liquor industry said interference by the state commerce commissioner’s office limited her ability to effectively do her job.

Shirley Cote expressed concern about the direction of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Anchorage Daily News. She recently stepped down from the post she held for over five years, a decision largely aimed at helping her daughter with her business, she wrote. But she said there were “instances of interference” by the commissioner’s office, including having a request to attend a conference put on hold until she produced a “business friendly plan” for the board.

Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell challenged that characterization, providing a chain of emails between deputy JoEllen Hanrahan and Cote from April about the travel and plan requests.

In one message, Hanrahan requested an outreach plan “focused on education and assistance to the business community rather than primarily enforcement.” In a later message, she said the perception has been that the board needs to widen its focus beyond enforcement “and engage on another level with the business community.”

Cote said what Hanrahan was asking for was not administrative only and “strategically changing the responsibilities” they had. Hanrahan said there was no intent to “minimize or eliminate” the board’s legal responsibilities. Cote later said she would work on a plan. “I, too, see this as nothing but a positive move,” Cote wrote.

In an interview Wednesday, Cote said it was positive to the extent that the board had been doing training and outreach for years. “But what may not be captured in that is the passive resistance to enforcement,” she said, such as denying travel to a law enforcement gathering for networking — the cost for which Hanrahan wrote seemed expensive, at about $380 — or expecting the board’s focus to expand while not adding staff.

The board for years fell under the Department of Public Safety. In 2012, lawmakers approved putting it under the Department of Commerce. According to the sponsor statement, the change was not to “restrict or change the enforcement responsibilities of the Board or of the Department of Public Safety.”

Gov. Sean Parnell, in signing the bill, noted concerns raised during the legislative debate that the move could limit the board’s enforcement abilities. He said he wasn’t convinced moving “an independent board for administrative purposes will be detrimental to law enforcement.” But he remained open to reviewing the placement, organization and structure of the board if the “underlying information and facts turn out to be different from the reality of regulating this industry in the public interest.”

Three months later, in a letter to the commissioners of Commerce and Public Safety, Parnell said concerns had been raised with the board’s “new direction,” and that he wanted to refresh their recollection about the Legislature’s intent and his own in signing the bill.

Parnell said Wednesday that he had not read Cote’s opinion piece, but he plans to look at her concerns and take those up with Bell.

Cote wrote that she could “only assume” that Parnell was unaware that the department “is actively assisting” the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, a hospitality industry group, “in changing the direction of the board’s efforts.”

Bell called that assertion inappropriate.

Cote wrote that while the departments of health and public safety are spending millions of dollars to fight alcohol abuse through prevention, education and enforcement, the commerce department “is essentially working hard to promote it.”

The association’s president didn’t return a message seeking comment.

The debate over the board was reignited last month when a recruitment ad said the director would support the board’s mission “to ensure responsible growth in the beverage industry.”

The Anchorage Daily News reported the ad was pulled and rewritten. A special assistant to Bell, who said she wrote the notice, said she had no intention of rewriting the agency’s focus to favor business. Bell said it was corrected when she became aware.

The current job description on the board’s website says the director supports the board’s mission “to protect the public from alcoholic beverage abuse by enforcing state laws regulating alcoholic beverage commerce through licensing and enforcement.”

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read