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September 17. 2012 10:53PM

Liquor job postings infuriate NH House Speaker O'Brien

CONCORD — House Speaker William O’Brien and Rep. Lynne Ober blasted the state Liquor Commission Monday for posting two top jobs at the agency while the positions remain occupied.

New Hampshire Liquor Commissioner Michael R. Milligan said he will respond to any questions they and the special House oversight committee may have when it meets today.

“I’m prepared to answer whatever questions they have,” Milligan said when reached by telephone at home Monday night.

Milligan would not respond to attacks O’Brien and Ober leveled at the commission for advertising the positions of chief of the Enforcement and Licensing Division and chief of Administrative Services Division. The positions currently are held by Eddie Edwards and Craig Bulkley respectively.

“I have not seen the comments by Speaker O’Brien or by Chairman Ober and I will not comment at this time,” Milligan said, noting he and Commission Chairman Joseph W. Mollica are appearing before the House oversight committee today.

Edwards was critical of the operations of the commission and the commissioners during his recent testimony before the Special House Committee to Evaluate the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission.

“If a government agency were trying to look like they were attempting to engage in a cover-up, they could not do a better job than the current efforts of the Liquor Commission. Posting a job of an employee who is assisting a legislative committee would be viewed as a great way of buying silence and limiting the value of testimony,” O’Brien said in a statement.

“This is a wholly inappropriate act, and if the commissioners have even a shred of common sense, they will pull back from this plan,” O’Brien continued.

O’Brien organized the special House committee to investigate a number of allegations against the liquor commission, including possible illegal lobbying activities, bootlegging and irregularities in the bidding process for a $200 million liquor warehouse contract.

Mollica has not returned repeated calls for comments.

Ober, the Hudson Republican who chairs the special committee, said: “When a public employee comes to the Legislature to address a concern about his or her agency we would expect that he not be immediately fired. The idea of punishing a whistleblower for sharing evidence of possible criminal activity is completely contrary to open, accountable government. “This may be tantamount to witness-tampering and possibly violates employment (statutes) and whistleblower protection laws. While (enforcement chief Eddie Edwards) is an at-will employee, having his career threatened simply because he cooperated with lawmakers in helping to address legitimate concerns is appalling,” Ober added.

A 2009 law gave the Liquor Commission greater autonomy than other state agencies, reduced legislative and Executive Council oversight and changed a number of employee positions from classified to unclassified.

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