Politics & Government

State alcohol chief fired by Bevin says he was given no reason

An attorney for Steven Edwards, who was fired this month as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control just five months after Gov. Matt Bevin appointed him, said Edwards has not been given any reason for his dismissal.

Edwards, 60, was fired without cause on the morning of Aug. 5 by Public Protection Secretary David Dickerson and escorted out of the agency’s Frankfort offices, said Louisville attorney Kenneth Handmaker. As a non-merit employee, Edwards served at the governor’s pleasure. He made $100,000 a year.

Still puzzling over his termination, Edwards was surprised this week by news reports about an executive order Bevin issued Monday. In the order, Bevin criticized Edwards’ performance and formally removed him from the job he hadn’t occupied in more than a week.

“I don’t understand, quite frankly, how you issue an executive order against someone who isn’t even a state employee anymore,” Handmaker said.

In his order, Bevin said “matters have been brought to my attention that have caused me to question the ability of Steven Edwards.” The governor said he was removing Edwards “for the reason that I have lost confidence in his ability to effectively lead the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.”

Edwards does not know what “matters” Bevin was referring to in his executive order, Handmaker said.

“We suspect that what has happened was political in nature. It is interesting that the governor decided this week to insert himself into a situation that already had been handled by Secretary Dickerson,” Handmaker said. “I can tell you that Mr. Dickerson didn’t think there was any cause for the termination. He just did it because he could.”

The Bevin administration doesn’t comment on personnel matters, Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Public Protection Cabinet, said Wednesday.

Edwards might file a lawsuit over the way he was dismissed, Handmaker said.

“We’re going to explore all of the options that are open to us,” the attorney said.

Bevin appointed Edwards as ABC commissioner in March. Edwards, who lives in Prospect, is a retired Army officer and previously served on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which regulates and supervises the state’s alcoholic beverage industry. He also had worked as a distilled spirits administrator.

People in the industry were “shocked” by Edwards’ firing and the governor’s public criticism, said Danny Meyer, executive director of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky.

“He’s done a great job. He has a good reputation and excellent relations with everyone in the industry that I’m aware of,” Meyer said. “I have no idea what this is all about.”

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics