Gillis resigns days before Board of Fisheries nominee due

Photo/File/AJOC

ANCHORAGE—Gov. Bill Walker’s Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis has left her position amid growing controversy over a Board of Fisheries seat that has yet to be successfully filled.

Walker, who is required by Alaska Statute to appoint a person to the seat by May 19, has previously appointed two candidates to the open seat; neither has lasted longer than a month. Though staff in the governor’s office confirmed Gillis’ departure, they have refused to discuss when she left, or release an updated list of candidates for the open seat.

After acknowledging that the list of candidates is a public document, Gillis’ assistant Shalome Cederberg said she wouldn’t release it given “the nature of what’s happening right now.”

Cederberg said she would have to check with the governor’s Anchorage Office Director Marcia Davis before releasing any information and would not answer questions about Gillis’ departure. Davis has yet to respond to a request for information. Gillis has also not responded to a phone call requesting information.

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries is a seven-member board that sets management plans and allocations in the state’s fisheries.

In the days leading up to the latest appointment deadline, commercial fishing advocacy groups are weighing in with their member organizations and the governor’s office on a nominee with strong ties to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, KRSA, who is rumored to have been appointed to the open seat.

Walker has not had much luck filling the seat after former board chairman Karl Johnstone left before the end of his term upon learning that he would not be reappointed to the position.

As Johnstone left, Walker appointed Roland Maw, a Cook Inlet commercial fishermen and former executive director of the commercial fishing advocacy group United Cook Inlet Drift Association, on Jan. 20.

Maw then withdrew his name from consideration suddenly on Feb. 20. Soon after, he faced criminal charges in Montana that he illegally obtained resident hunting and fishing licenses in the state for several years.

He has since pled no-contest to the charges, paid more than $7,200 in fines and temporarily lost his privileges to hunt, fish and trap in Montana and all of the Wildlife Violator Compact States — of which Alaska is a member — according to the terms of his plea agreement filed with Montana in May.

Walker’s second appointment, Soldotna resident Robert Ruffner, is the former executive director of the habitat advocacy group Kenai Watershed Forum. Ruffner was the subject of a concentrated opposition campaign led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and other personal use and sportfishing-related groups.

The crux of KRSA’s argument was that Ruffner had supporters who were commercial fishermen, therefore he supported commercial fishing interests, according to letters submitted by paid KRSA consultants to Alaska media outlets and to legislators by KRSA board members. Ruffner was also criticized for living outside of the state’s population center, and therefore too far away to be accessible to fishermen from the Mat-Su borough and Anchorage.

Ruffner was defeated by a 30-29 vote on April 19 during a joint session of the Legislature.

Rumors of the governor’s third pick spread Friday as United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest commercial fishing advocacy group, emailed its members asking them to contact Walker’s office to protest the possible nomination of Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell to the open seat.

The email was forwarded to the Alaska Journal of Commerce on Friday.

Quintavell, who has been featured in a Kenai River Sportfishing Association ad campaign, is an Anchorage resident who applied for the open seat on Feb. 22, according to a candidate list from the governor’s office of Boards and Commissions.

Quintavell is the former senior vice president and chief operating officer of Alaska Native regional corporation Doyon Ltd., and past president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

She appeared in a promotional video entitled “Save Our Kings,” produced in 2013 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

In the video, Quintavell expresses her love of king salmon fishing and the importance of the fish to her cultural identity as an Alaska Native. The video was played before a Senate Resources Committee “State of the Salmon” hearing on March 26, 2014.

Andy Hall, president of Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, sent an email on May 15 to Walker asking him to reconsider Quintavell’s nomination. In it, Hall accuses Walker to caving to KRSA-fueled political pressure.

“You told me once that during your campaign you made no promises that you would not keep,” Hall wrote. “You promised fairness and that you wouldn't cater to special interests. Please keep that promise.”

Quintavell has support among legislators, including Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who led the floor fight against Ruffner’s confirmation.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, said earlier this month that Ruffner was from a commercial fishing area, echoing an argument asserted regularly in KRSA-related editorials and letters sent to legislators.

Gattis said she did not get lobbied heavily during the confirmation hearings for Ruffner because she is a legislator from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

“Pretty much if you don’t come from sportfishing and you have any ties to commercial fishing, it’s not happening,” she said.

During the legislative confirmation hearing for Ruffner, Stoltze also criticized the Office of Boards and Commissions where Gillis was the director.

“There was a very aggressive internal effort to make sure that she was really discredited,” Stoltze said during the 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.”

According to the most recent list of candidates previously provided by the Office of Boards and Commissions, others who have applied for the seat since Ruffner’s rejection are Bob Mumford and Bruce Morgan. Those who applied before Ruffner was nominated are: Dwight Kramer, Jeffrey Fox, Chris Paul Every, Frank Kelty, Henry Kroll and Thomas Henry Sullivan Jr.

Rashah McChesney of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.

Updated: 
11/21/2016 - 9:58pm