On Thursday afternoon, two board members took the unusual step of testifying against the nomination of board chairwoman Ruthanne G. Miller for another four years. Miller, a lawyer and longtime civic activist, was appointed to the board last year to fill out the term of Charles Brodsky, who resigned suddenly.
But the months since have not passed smoothly, board members Nick Alberti and Mike Silverstein testified. Both described concerns about Miller’s ability to handle the board’s caseload and her decision to seek the removal of an attorney with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration without consulting with board members.
“It’s been chaotic,” Alberti said. “We’ve taken much more time than is necessary in our deliberations, and in our hearings. This was not always the case under previous chairs.”
Should Miller win reappointment, Alberti said, “we will continue to have very inefficient deliberations, very inefficient hearings.”
Silverstein said he did not question Miller’s integrity, but questioned whether she was respecting ABRA staff and said it “became a toxic situation” on the board after she arrived.
“We have had retreats, we have had meetings, we have tried to work this out, but it’s become very, very, very difficult,” he said. “There’s no allegations here of corruption, or wrongdoing. ... It’s just like a dysfunctional family picnic every week.”
Alberti said he outright opposed Miller’s confirmation; Silverstein said he held no position for or against.
Miller defended her work on the board, saying she is trying to make hidebound procedures more fair and transparent. She noted that the board has become accustomed to doing much of its deliberating behind closed doors.
“I was dropped into a board of five men who operate a certain way,” she said. “I slow things down sometimes, because sometimes I question the way things are done. I don’t think a good chair should accept the status quo, shouldn’t question what’s going on.”
Her opponents, Miller added, were engaging in “bullying tactics” aimed at getting her to “just go away.”
Miller was also defended D.C. Council members Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who called her “probably the most qualified nominee to this board we’ve ever had.” Cheh noted Miller’s long service on the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment and her deep experience in administrative law.
Brown, in particular, responded to Silverstein’s suggestion that relations among board members had deteriorated into a “toxic” mess. “Some people have called the city council that,” Brown said, “but that doesn’t mean business doesn’t move forward.”
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs the committee overseeing alcohol regulation, suggested the board members could use counseling on how to work better together.
In his 14 years on the council, he added, “I have never heretofore experienced this kind of testimony.”