Governor names former APD detective as interim AMCO director

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Governor Michael Dunleavy has named a former Anchorage Police Department detective as the interim director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

Glen Klinkhart’s appointment comes one day after Erika McConnell, the former AMCO director, was controversially ousted by a 3-2 majority vote of Marijuana Control Board members. In October, the Alcoholic Beverages Control board voted unanimously to remove McConnell from her position as director.

A majority of both boards are needed to oust the director of AMCO.

“I am assured Interim Director Klinkhart will work proactively with the public, the licensees, the boards, the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, and the legislature to find solutions to many of the issues raised in testimony yesterday,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “He shares the administration’s view that we must ensure adequate oversight to protect the health, life, and safety of Alaskans, and simultaneously make government more responsive, efficient, and business friendly.”

According to Klinkhart’s website, he worked as an APD detective for 17 years before becoming the CEO of an information security consulting firm and penning “Finding Bethany,” a true crime memoir.

McConnell alleges that members of the Dunleavy administration were involved in her ouster. She says Amy Demboski, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, contacted the chairs of the alcohol and marijuana boards in August, requesting for an executive session to be held to discuss personnel matters.

According to McConnell, that could only relate to discussing her being removed as director. On Thursday, Mark Springer, the chairman of the MCB, confirmed those conversations with Demboski took place.

Demboski, who left the governor's office in May, now works as Deputy Commissioner of the Commerce Department. Demboski did not immediately respond to a request for comment but she did attend Wednesday's MCB meeting when McConnell was ousted.

Chair Bob Klein of the ABC board also did not respond to a request for comment about McConnell's removal as a director.

Glen Hoskinson, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department, denies that any member of the Dunleavy administration was involved in removing McConnell.

“The members of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board and Marijuana Control Board independently voted and decided to remove Erika McConnell as director of AMCO, consistent with the standards set forth in state law,” Hoskinson wrote in an email. “At no time has the Department of Commerce, its officials, or the administration requested the board members to remove the director.”

McConnell says she is unsure about why her ouster took place but that there were allegations that she and AMCO staff had acted improperly when accessing a criminal database used by state law enforcement agencies. An allegation that never went anywhere, she says.

She also alleges that Harriet Milks, the attorney for the marijuana and alcohol boards, was inexplicably removed from her position in September despite seven years of experience. “Nobody in the state is more knowledgeable about alcohol and marijuana laws,” McConnell said to the marijuana board on Wednesday.

Maria Bahr, a spokesperson for the Department of Law, told the Associated Press that it does not comment on personnel matters.

Springer said he and Klein went to the Office of Boards and Commissions Wednesday evening to inform officials that McConnell had been ousted.

Springer says that he and Klein recommended that James Hoelscher, the top enforcement officer at AMCO, should step in and serve as interim director. On Thursday, Hoelscher said he hoped a director would be named soon so that he could get back to his enforcement work.

Dunleavy praised Hoelscher for "providing continuity of operations during this change.”

According to Hoskinson, the Department of Commerce, which acts as the umbrella organization for AMCO, will begin recruiting for the director position. The governor then appoints the AMCO director, a position that is not required to be confirmed by the Legislature.

McConnell says she has not decided yet whether or not she will challenge her firing in the courts. She had previously recruited attorney Elizabeth Bakalar, who is separately suing the governor for her own firing, to represent her.

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