No question about it, Bethel issues were a significant part of Tuesday's packed agenda at the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board meeting. The Board eventually decided to table all decisions on liquor licenses in Bethel until a special meeting at a later date.
The phone lines were so packed with callers to testify that it was hard to hear speakers, mostly due to some people not muting their phones throughout the meeting.
The meeting got started with a report to the ABC Board. Sparked from a request by the neighboring Village of Napaskiak, District 38 Representative Tiffany Zulkosky held a public listening session in Bethel – attended by several staff members of the Governor’s office, including Assistant Attorney General Alex Cleghorn, who was there to give the Board a report on the meeting.
“My impression was there were 15 to 25 people in the room throughout the listening session,” said Cleghorn, “and people spoke at length about their concerns about the liquor store in Bethel and the harms that they perceived coming from the liquor store.”
Cleghorn said that of those who spoke, only two were in favor of renewing the license of the Alaska Commercial Quickstop liquor store.
“There were also people from the City Council there who spoke, and people from local law enforcement – a lot of members of the community,” Cleghorn said. “So, I think there was a broad cross-section in the room.”
That cross-section included current and retired law enforcement members, representatives from the Tundra Women’s Coalition, social and health workers, and Tribal Administrators from Napaskiak. Several people at the listening session were moved to tears while sharing their stories with state officials.
Next up was the renewal of Bethel Native Corporation's Bethel Spirits liquor license and the transfer of that license to Sea Lion Corporation, which owns the building where the store is located. BNC President Ana Hoffman spoke.
“Bethel Native Corporation's position remains consistent: we support legal, regulated, sales. The responsibility of the board is to uphold the statutes and regulation included in title four,” said Hoffman. “The residents of Bethel voted to be wet.”
BNC has kept the liquor store closed except for the amount of time legally required to hold its license. At this time, BNC’s renewal has not been protested by the City of Bethel. The number of callers hoping to testify against the renewal and transfer quickly stretched the Board's allotted time, and they decided to table the item.
The same decision was made about Alaska Commercial's liquor license renewal and the city's protest. The issue was put on hold after public testimony from AC’s representatives, Bethel City Attorney Patty Burley, City Council Member Leif Albertson, and many Bethel community members.
No time has been set yet for a special meeting.