Governor fires chair of Alaska oil and gas commission

Gov. Mike Dunleavy Tuesday removed the chair of the commission overseeing oil and gas activity, citing “neglect of duty," following complaints from two commissioners that Hollis French spent limited time at work.

The governor said his decision to remove French from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was “effective immediately," according to a short letter addressed to French Tuesday and released by the governor’s office.

French, who has said he often worked outside the office, said late Tuesday he hadn’t seen the letter until a reporter emailed it to him.

“This is another bad decision by the governor," French said. "I am proud of my work on the commission and intend to demonstrate that it was always directed to protecting the public interest. It’s sad that the governor seems to want a watchdog agency without any teeth.”

Dunleavy said he was removing French from the three-member commission for “chronic, unexcused absenteeism," specifically that he typically came to work 3.5 to 4 hours daily, according to a three-page “statement of decision" accompanying the letter.

The governor’s decision followed a three-day hearing earlier this month that gave French, an attorney and former Democratic state senator, a chance to defend himself against five allegations of misconduct.

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French was appointed to the commission’s public seat by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2016. He earns $145,000 annually. French has said he felt he was being targeted by Commissioners Cathy Foerster and Dan Seamount for standing up for the public interest.

In 2017, French had sought to expand the agency’s enforcement authority to cover natural gas leaking from a Hilcorp line that fueled operations at a Cook Inlet platform, a proposal the agency disagreed with.

Dunleavy’s statement said his decision was also based partly on a second allegation that French neglected duties and forced others to take on extra tasks.

Hearing officer Tim Petumenos said in a 19-page report that French did a substantial amount of work outside the office and was not given a chance to change his behavior because no one in the office “seriously” informed him of their concerns.

[Dunleavy places chairman of Alaska oil and gas oversight commission on administrative leave]

Petumenos also found that French’s limited time in the office caused a “reallocation of work” to others, showed poor leadership and affected office morale.

Dunleavy said he declined to base his decision on three other charges against French: browbeating fellow commissioners, publicly undermining the commission’s work and disclosing the agency’s confidential information.

French has 30 days to appeal the governor’s decision.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.