Resignations submitted by director and two staff lawyers at Alcoholic Beverage Control | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Resignations submitted by director and two staff lawyers at Alcoholic Beverage Control

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 1:58 PM

  • Russ Racop
  • BUD ROBERTS: Resigns from ABC.
Gary "Bud" Roberts has submitted notice of his resignation as director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson confirms.

As yet, no comment on a reason for the resignation.

UPDATE: Resignations also were tendered by two ABC staff attorneys — Mary Robin Casteel and Milton R. Lueken. Casteel and Lueken were veteran staffers, paid $73,407 and $83,741 respectively. Roberts made $89,857.

Roberts' letter, dated today, said the resignation would take effect in three weeks. He said he'd taken the job expecting to serve two years, but "with the advent of medical marijuana, I decided to stay a bit longer, to oversee the rulemaking and application formation process. These matters are so nearly complete that I feel comfortable with the timing, at this point."

The ABC job is political and sensitive. Hutchinson picked Roberts to succeed Beebe-era director Michael Langley. Roberts, a lawyer, is brother of another politically connected lawyer, Michael Roberts. At the time of Bud Roberts appointment, Asa Hutchinson III was a member of the Roberts law firm, but is no more. Hutchinson reappointed Michael Roberts to a position on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

The ABC, in addition to overseeing the politically hot topic of permitting alcoholic beverage dealers, now is the agency that will oversee medical marijuana regulation.

The ABC came under fire during the recent legislative session, particularly its separate enforcement division, which operates independently of the ABC director. Private club owners complained about enforcement of rules against gambling devices. The governor had to veto a bill by Sen. Scott Flippo that would have prohibited ABC agents from enforcing anti-gambling law. An override attempt failed. But the ABC has been paying courtesy calls in affected districts trying to soothe troubled waters.

Alcohol also figured in another major legislative battle, over expanding the ability of grocery stores to sell all types of wine. One tradeoff was a window to expand the ability of retail liquor stores to sell goods beyond alcohol and a few snacks and mixers.

There's no suggestion so far that these issues played a role in the three resignations. But sudden departures from three state jobs in the same agency, revealed on the same day, is not an everyday occurrence.

Casteel, who resigned effective June 16, said her decision came after "much thought and consideration" She said she'd enjoyed her work at ABC.

"The timing of my resignation is such that I hope the ABC will have an opportunity to hire an attorney to see the medical marijuana application process through from beginning to an end." She said her own work on that had been a "rewarding and enlightening" challenge. She said she hoped to enter private practice.

Lueken resigned effective June 23. He said he'd started the work 28 years ago and he's now 73. "The time has come for me to enjoy, hopefully, many years of a new phase of life in the retirement sector."

Casteel's letter was dated May 19, Lueken's on May 22 and May 25.

Within an hour or so of Roberts' resignation, word had begun leaking out. Sources in the agency indicate some unhappiness with Roberts' leadership. Resignation of two veteran lawyers might, they suggest, have encouraged action on the governor's part relative to Roberts. Whatever the case, the lawyer responsible for drafting new marijuana rules is gone and that business is to begin soon.

UPDATE: Comment from Gov. Hutchinson:

“I want to thank Bud for his work at ABC over the past two years. His willingness to stay on longer than he originally planned to assist with the implementation of medical marijuana voters passed in 2016 is much appreciated. I wish him the best of luck in any future endeavors.”
Also, Casteel, 38, who'd been with the agency more than four years, said she'd long considered making a move to a solo practicet. She said she'd been caught by surprise by the flurry of interest in events today. Might she return to the agency if asked? She said she couldn't say except to say for now she was committed to solo practice. She said she had no issues with leadership of the agency.

UPDATE: Lueken told the Democrat-Gazette that Hutchinson had fired Roberts, something the governor's spokesman denied to me Thursday after another source had told me the same thing.

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