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Walker's appointments director resigns after two failed fish board nominations

The official charged with picking appointees for state boards and commissions has left Gov. Bill Walker's administration, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Walker wouldn't answer questions about the official, Karen Gillis, in a news conference Monday, saying her departure was a personnel matter.

Gillis, who used to run a Western Alaska fishermen's group, worked on Walker's campaign last year and was based in the governor's Anchorage office. Her replacement will be based in Juneau, said Grace Jang, Walker's spokeswoman.

Gillis's departure was first reported by the Peninsula Clarion and the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Gillis didn't respond to several messages left Monday.

Jang said Walker is focused on filling a vacant position on the state Board of Fisheries before he finds a replacement for Gillis.

The seven-member Fish Board currently has one vacant seat following the departure of its former chairman, Karl Johnstone, early this year. Johnstone resigned after he learned from Walker that he wouldn't be reappointed when his term expired in June.

Walker has tried twice to name a replacement for Johnstone. The first appointee, Roland Maw, withdrew his candidacy in February as Montana officials opened a criminal investigation into his residency claims there.

The state Legislature in April rejected Walker's second candidate, Robert Ruffner, who led a Kenai Peninsula conservation group.

Walker must pick a new candidate for the Fish Board by Tuesday, under state statute.

Several people involved in fish politics attributed Gillis's departure to a dispute with the governor over his potential selection of a candidate viewed as aligned more with sportfishing interests than commercial fishing interests.

But Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he spoke to Walker on Monday morning and expects the new candidate to be more neutral.

"He reiterated his interest in a Board of Fisheries made up of members that hold equal value for each user group," Micciche said in a phone interview.

Micciche said he could understand Gillis' departure following contentious and public battles over the appointments of Ruffner and Maw. But, Micciche added: "I think she was good at what she did, and I certainly wish she could have stayed the course, and wish she was still with the boards department."