D.C. alcohol board members accuse chair of 'toxic' atmosphere

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Tensions from a District government boardroom spilled into the open on Thursday as the panel's leader sought to keep her job and two of its members accused her of fostering a "toxic" environment.

Mayor Vincent Gray earlier this year nominated Ruthanne Miller, the chairwoman of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, to a full term as the city's top alcohol regulator.

But during a rowdy session with D.C. lawmakers, two longtime board members laid bare their concerns with Miller's leadership style since she took over as chairwoman in January.

"She came into an impossible situation, and it became toxic," member Mike Silverstein told a council committee. "It's just like a dysfunctional family picnic every week."

Another member, Nick Alberti, said he could not support Miller's nomination.

"I have no confidence," said Alberti, who repeatedly voiced concerns about Miller's handling of personnel issues.

Both men, though, said they had no reason to suspect Miller had bad intentions or was corrupt.

"I don't have any problem at all with Ruthanne Miller's heart," Silverstein said.

Miller, who was visibly nervous after listening to the testimony from Alberti and Silverstein, defended her record.

She acknowledged that personalities often clashed, but she and her supporters argued that those disagreements surfaced because she was the board's newcomer.

"I don't think a good chair should accept the status quo," said Miller, who added that the disputes "just made things less pleasant at times."

Gray's administration strongly defended Miller as a reform-minded pick.

"We believe she is the right candidate for the job," spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said.

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who chairs the committee handling Miller's nomination, said the panel would vote on Friday. If the committee backs Miller, the full council will weigh the pick next week.

Graham refused to say how he would vote.

"We have an issue at the board, but I think it's an issue that we can work on and improve," Graham told The Washington Examiner. "But this is a pretty unusual event to have board members come and provide this kind of testimony."

At-large Councilman Michael Brown said he'd back Miller's nomination and that the board's members should resolve their differences -- or at least minimize them.

"You may not like the people you work with, but you have to work with them," he said.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh also dismissed the members' complaints and said Miller's fate should not be about "how well they can play in the sandbox."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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