State ABC chief resigns with WIGS work hanging

Keith Bell, named executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission in 2013, has abruptly announced his resignation from the position in an email to legislators and lobbyists, reports The Tennessean.

The resignation comes with the ABC facing a heavy workload as it prepares for the beginning of wine sales in grocery store starting July 1. And the No. 2 administrator at the ABC is planning to leave in April.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s resigning at this point, because of the need for stability in the department,” said (Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill) Ketron, adding he was “shocked” at Bell’s resignation.

“We didn’t need any instability only 90 days away from implementation from that piece of legislation going into effect.”

Bell notified lawmakers and lobbyists of his decision in an email Thursday. In the email, obtained by The Tennessean, Bell gives few details as to the reason for his departure. He has been executive director of the agency since 2013.

“I have enjoyed my time with each of you and appreciate all your hard work. Keep up the good jobs y’all are doing and thank you,” Bell said in the email.

…Commission Assistant Director Gina Winfree is set to temporarily lead the commission, according to an announcement emailed by Nashville-based law firm Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin, a firm with several attorneys and lobbyists who focus on alcohol-related issues. But Winfree won’t remain at the commission for long: She’s set to join GSRM as an attorney at some point in late April, according to the firm.

…”Hopefully, the administration and the board will find a new director with a strong administrative and enforcement background, but someone who will not be as egregious in punitive fines for all sectors of the industry,” said Randy Rayburn, a longtime Nashville restaurant executive who owns Midtown Cafe and Cabana.

Leading the ABC is a tough position that easily puts a person at odds with different parts of the industry, said Nashville attorney Will Cheek. Although Cheek, a food and beverage attorney at Bone McAllester Norton, said Bell leaves big shoes to fill, he said the departure may signal the ABC isn’t ready for the influx of applications.

“He may have left now before the train wreck happens,” Cheek said.