JUNEAU, Alaska – Gov. Mike Dunleavy has fired the chair of a state commission tasked with overseeing oil and gas drilling in Alaska, saying Hollis French was neglectful in his duties.
French argues his firing was politically motivated, brought on by his seeking commission action on a Cook Inlet gas leak. French said Wednesday that the evidence he’s seen indicates his fellow commissioners were unhappy with his position.
Dunleavy, a Republican, issued an order Tuesday removing French from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, effective immediately. French, a Democratic former state senator, can appeal.
Dunleavy said he based his decision on the findings of a hearing officer who found that “chronic absenteeism” by French negatively affected office morale and caused others to handle work for French.
Hearing officer Timothy Petumenos also found that no commission work was considerably delayed or affected by French’s absences and that other commissioners and staff did not seriously confront French to allow him to address the issue.
Dunleavy wrote that it was his judgment that French “neglected his duty to routinely show up for work, to work a full day, and to do his best to perform his obligations” as a full-time commissioner.
French took issue with that. “To me, that’s not why you remove someone from office,” he said, adding later: “It calls for a mild correction, not execution.”
The gas line leak involved the company Hilcorp. Campaign contribution records showed Hilcorp Energy Co. gave $25,000 to Dunleavy for Alaska, an influential third-party group that supported Dunleavy’s campaign for governor.
The donation is shown as Jan. 29, after Dunleavy initiated proceedings to remove French. Dunleavy took office in December. The contribution was first reported by blogger Dermot Cole.
Matt Larkin, campaign manager with the Dunleavy for Alaska group, said he personally solicited the contribution from Hilcorp to help cover campaign expenses and said it had nothing to do with French.
Messages seeking comment were left for Hilcorp and a Dunleavy spokesman.
In 2014, French won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor but stepped aside when the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Byron Mallott, became Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker’s running mate. The so-called unity ticket of Walker and Mallott won later that year.
French was appointed to the commission in 2016 by Walker and later confirmed by the Legislature.