Karen Gillis, Gov. Bill Walker’s former director of Boards and Commissions, resigned in protest of an appointment Walker’s office said never happened.
Gillis, who was named Boards and Commissions director this past December, said in an interview on Wednesday that she quit her position on May 13 after learning that Walker had decided to appoint Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell to a vacant seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
The appointment rumors surfaced in a May 15 letter from commercial fishing organization United Fishermen of Alaska urging its members to contact the governor’s office to object to Quintavell’s possible appointment based on her close ties to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, which led the fight that sunk Walker’s previous choice for the board seat, Robert Ruffner.
On May 20, Walker’s office announced that current Board of Game member Robert “Bob” Mumford, whose term is expiring June 30, was appointed to the vacant Board of Fisheries seat.
Gillis told the Journal that as of May 13, Walker’s decision had been final for Quintavell.
“I can tell you that last week, when the governor said the decision was final, it was Bobbi Quintavell,” said Gillis.
She said that after a lull in appointment discussions, Walker Chief of Staff Jim Whitaker confirmed to her that the appointment had been made.
Gillis said she requested a meeting with Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Walker’s informal fisheries adviser, to discuss the appointment. Mallott did not attend the meeting, where Walker told Gillis he had deferred to Mallott on the decision to appoint Quintavell.
Gillis resigned on the spot, saying that Walker had undermined her credibility as a Boards and Commissions director with extensive fisheries experience. Gillis was formerly the executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, a group that works with Western Alaska fishermen and was involved in the creation of the Community Development Quota program that allocates 10 percent of the Bering Sea harvests to 65 villages within 50 miles of the coast.
“‘You’ve basically said that my opinion doesn’t matter,’” Gillis said she told Walker, “‘and that I have no credibility here. People look to me to change Alaska from this old boys’ network, and I’m the only one in your administration who knows anything about fisheries, and you’ve undermined me.’”
Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang denies that Quintavell had ever been set for appointment.
“(Quintavell) absolutely was not (appointed),” said Jang. “Karen Gillis does not work for the governor’s office anymore, so she can’t speak for it. The governor is excited to have Mumford on board.”
Gillis said the Board of Fisheries seat appointment process has been turbulent since January, when Walker appointed former United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw without her consultation.
Following the subsequent withdrawal by Maw on Feb. 20 — criminal charges were filed against him in Montana over receiving resident hunting and fishing licenses — Walker nominated Soldotna conservationist Ruffner to the position.
The full Legislature voted 30-29 against confirming Ruffner on April 19.
In the midst of Ruffner’s rejection, Board of Fisheries subsistence representative Orville Huntington was confirmed for another three-year term to being July 1.
Gillis said the Legislature unfairly characterized the Boards and Commissions office as beholden to commercial interests due to her background as executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.
Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, referred to Quintavell as his preferred nominee during his remarks at Ruffner’s confirmation hearing.
Stoltze did not refer to Quintavell by name, but did make mention of female candidate with a Harvard degree who ran “one of the most successful companies in Alaska,” and now lives in Anchorage.
According to Boards and Commissions applicant listings, she is the only name that fits.
Stoltze said during his speech that Walker and the Boards and Commissions office had interviewed Quintavell and rejected her based on internal opposition.
“There was a very aggressive internal effort to make sure that she was really discredited,” said Stoltze in session. “Our approved Department of Fish and Game and high levels of government said ‘oh, well, she’s not very smart.’ It was really gratuitous to beat her up in order to prop up (Ruffner), and that’s really all it was.”
Gillis bucks at the accusation and calls it either ignorance or political maneuvering.
She said Quintavell’s lack of fishery experience spoke for itself in consideration for the position. Formerly, Quintavell served as vice president and chief operating officer of Alaska Native regional corporation Doyon Ltd., and as president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corp.
“She is very intelligent,” said Gillis. “You can be a brilliant person and not know anything about fish. It’s definitely the wrong way to characterize our process with her. Would you have someone with tourism experience in (the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation)? No. So don’t put Bobbi Quintavell in for fisheries.”
Gillis said Quintavell’s decision only added to a pattern of gubernatorial appointments and suggestions that took place outside her influence or without her approval, a list that includes Maw, Quintavell, and now Mumford.
“It disappoints me that this decision could be made in this climate without my input. That was the fifth time a decision had been made outside of me,” said Gillis.
“He could make an executive decision about 128 of the 131 boards, but on fisheries, as far as I’m concerned, I’m the only person in his administration with the expertise to make those decisions. In my personal opinion, you don’t do that. It’s far too important to the residents of Alaska.”
Bob Mumford, the most recent appointee to the Board of Fisheries seat, was rejected by Gillis for another term on the Board of Game, where Mumford currently serves until June 30. Gillis said Mumford wasn’t even an applicant for the Board of Fisheries listing until prompted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. Mumford applied for the position April 22, three days after Ruffner was rejected and Mumford’s replacement on the Board of Game was confirmed.
“Sam brought in that idea about Mumford,” said Gillis. “I didn’t really take him seriously. I know he spent his career as a (Wildlife) Trooper, but I thought we were looking for a particular kind of person that served multiple sectors.”
Gillis said she does not agree with the Mumford’s appointment, but that it would not have been enough to have made her resign had it been his name instead of Quintavell’s that Whitaker confirmed to her.
Mumford’s appointment will carry into the year without a confirmation hearing from the Legislature.
He will serve with full power on the board until next legislative session, where another candidate could be potentially considered and confirmed.
After the resignation of Karl Johnstone, the withdrawal by Maw and the rejection of Ruffner, Gillis said Mumford’s appointment is a convenient way to patch the position with a non-politically affiliated candidate, already familiar with board process, until the next legislative session when other candidates could be considered.
DJ Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.