ABLE Commission Fires Director

Article excerpt

After spending two-and-a-half hours in executive session, members of the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission took less than five minutes to fire the agency's executive director on a 5-2 vote on Friday.

The group's monthly meeting was dominated by emotional debate from agency law enforcement agents, who urged the ouster of Executive Director Gary Davidson, and business officials from across the state who supported the embattled director.

Former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer was among the restaurateurs voicing support of Davidson. Switzer, whose support for Sen. Brad Henry has been cited as one reason for Henry's come-from-behind victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week, wasn't as effective when it came to saving Davidson's job.

Switzer, who noted that he was "no stranger to criticism" as head of OU's football program, said Davidson was in a similar position to a football coach who is being second-guessed by spectators. However, Switzer said he believed Davidson had the agency on the "proper course" based on his interactions with the agency as a restaurant owner, and said state budget problems outside Davidson's control -- forcing cutbacks at the commission -- have led to recent complaints. "The agency head can only do what funding allows," Switzer said.

J.P. Richard, owner of Cache Road Discount Liquor and Wines in Lawton, told commission members that he believed Davidson is the "most well-balanced, sensible director" that he's seen at the agency since first entering the liquor business in 1974.

Verej Jazirvar, manager of The Petroleum Club in downtown Oklahoma City, said Davidson has always been responsive to the business community. "You know his office is open," Jazirvar said. "You know you're going to get a fair hearing with him."

But ABLE Commission agents said Davidson has prevented the agency's agents from effectively enforcing liquor laws. Greg Bynum, an assistant special agent in charge at the agency, said Davidson has not been responsive to agents in the field. Gary James, an attorney representing the liquor law agents association, said Davidson's administration has hamstrung law enforcement.

"The laws are not being enforced," he said, and declared the agency was "off course."

Kent James, a senior agent, noted that the commission has been flooded with letters and calls from regulated individuals voicing support for Davidson. "If he is retained as director, who will he owe?" James asked.

Following the vote, Davidson said, "I have enjoyed my association with the ABLE Commission. …