A pair of D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board members on Thursday accused Mayor Vincent C. Gray's pick to chair the independent body of creating a "toxic" environment behind the scenes while the board grinds through its heavy workload.
Board members Mike Silverstein of Ward 2 and Nick Alberti of Ward 6 testified they had no doubts about Ruthanne G. Miller's heart or integrity during an awkward confirmation hearing before the Committee on Human Services.
Committee Chairman Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said the men asked to testify about Ms. Miller's nomination as chair of the ABC board — charged with licensing, adjudicating, administering and enforcing the city's alcohol-related laws — noting they neither support nor oppose her ultimate nomination. They testified that Ms. Miller, who chaired the Board of Zoning Adjustment from 2007 to 2009, does not let staff do their jobs and often lets meetings extend into the night.
Despite their frustration, the pair ensured the committee they will continue to carry out the work of the board.
"It's become very, very, very difficult," Mr. Silverstein said. "It's just like a dysfunctional family picnic every week."
Ms. Miller testified their views are not shared by the rest of the board.
"If I had known that I was going to have two board members testifying negatively or against me, I certainly would have contacted other board members to come and testify their views, because first of all I don't believe that that is the unanimous view," she said.
Ms. Miller was initially appointed to fill in after former chairman Charles Brodsky resigned May 27, 2011, and faced charges of impersonating an officer a day later. Mr. Gray has asked the council to confirm Ms. Miller to a full term through May 2016.
Committee members indicated they are more than inclined to support Ms. Miller's confirmation, with members Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, indicating their approval. Mr. Graham noted that neither of the witnesses accused Ms. Miller of wrongdoing, so "what we're left with then is a matter of style and approach, leadership and those types of issues."
She said part of the reason meetings go so late is because members want to discuss issues before they air them out in public, raising concerns about transparency.
"I was dropped into a board of five men who had been operating a certain way. … I don't think a good chair should accept the status quo and just be one of the gang and go along," she testified.
Mr. Graham said some "outside facilitation" might be helpful to resolve the board's issues.
"We have to say it's a very unusual occurrence to have this type of testimony at a confirmation hearing," Mr. Graham said.
"I agree," Ms. Miller interjected.
"In my time on the council — this is the end of my 14th year — I have never heretofore experienced this kind of testimony."
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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