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Massachusetts Marijuana Regulator Cites ‘Discord And Instability’ As Officials Clash Over Leadership Duties



“This is really about building and solidifying our team going forward, especially with all the work that’s on our plate.”

By Colin Young, State House News Service Via CommonWealth Beacon

Turmoil reared its head again at the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) last week, when one commissioner suggested that another had done something that “created intense upheaval, discord and instability” at the agency and then torpedoed an effort to divide up the agency’s acting executive director’s duties.

The CCC has been in disarray for much of the last year. The agency has been without a dedicated chairperson since Shannon O’Brien was suspended by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg in September and without an executive director for nearly as long.

Shawn Collins, the only administrative head in the CCC’s history, went out on parental leave in September and resigned before returning in December. Chief People Officer Debra Hilton-Creek has been serving as acting executive director in the meantime, and the agency’s search for a new executive director appears months behind its originally envisioned schedule.

“We’re mindful and we’re preparing for the next ED, for the next leader and administrative leader, of the agency. So it’s important that we essentially just get our ducks in a row and prepare ourselves for that transition during this transition period,” Acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion said last week.

Tensions were obvious Thursday when the CCC took up an an item referred to on the meeting agenda as “CCC 2024 Key Priorities and Operational Changes.” Concepcion then presented two motions: one to direct the CCC’s top lawyer to move ahead with the promulgation process for regulatory changes the commission has already agreed to (which passed) and a second to delegate many of the acting executive director responsibilities from Hilton-Creek to various other CCC department heads, a proposal which led to a messy exchange.

Commissioner Kimberly Roy was recognized at the start of the discussion and read a short statement.

“As you know, I’m one of five appointed members of the CCC. All five of us are co-equal voting members of this body. As members of the commission, we are required to operate under certain rules, regulations and statutes in which we operate. I have questions and concerns about certain activities that may have occurred in the last 48 hours or so that not only myself as a commissioner, CCC staff and the public at large need answers to,” said Roy, a Gov. Charlie Baker (R) appointee. “It is further important to note these actions have created intense upheaval, discord and instability within our staff, as I’ve heard from many of them, as well as a device of distraction to our agency.”

Roy, who served as acting chairwoman for the first meeting following O’Brien’s suspension before Concepcion was voted into that temporary position, then asked Concepcion to recognize her “throughout the course of this discussion and that no parliamentary procedures such as moving the question or the motion are deployed to stifle debate.”

“The public will recognize this as censorship, and the press watching today,” Roy said.

Roy then turned her attention to Commissioner Bruce Stebbins. “Commissioner Stebbins, over the last 48 hours have you been involved in a process to replace acting Executive Director Hilton-Creek? Did you make employment offers…” Roy said before Concepcion shut her down by talking over her.

Concepcion said that Roy was “entering statements and information that is not a part of today’s discussion or vote” and asked that the CCC’s general counsel provide “any legal guidance at this time.”

General Counsel Kristina Gasson said she “would just caution commissioners from adding anything that…involves like a personnel action that might be considered to be held confidential on privacy implications, implications under the public records law, and just making sure that we preserve privacy in those cases.”

Roy did not specify which job or jobs were supposedly offered to whom, and no additional details about the alleged offers was shared during the meeting last Thursday.

Roy complained she’s “not briefed on any of these things” and said that Concepcion has “not provided me any context.” She again alluded to employment offers having been extended, saying, “there were actions over the last 48 hours that, offers were made to employees…” before Concepcion again stopped the conversation.

“Commissioner Roy, please. I will not get into a conversation about personnel matters during an open meeting. We’ve already gotten into a place where it’s gotten really complicated from past actions. I am not going to entertain that,” Concepcion said, perhaps alluding to the firestorm O’Brien caused last summer when she aired commission personnel matters publicly. “And I don’t think it is something that should be allowed during this conversation. So I want us to continue with the conversation at hand…anything else is not for this space. And I feel a little bit conflicted with the fact that I need to say that now to a commissioner in public, but we will not engage in that conversation.”

Hilton-Creek weighed in, calling the exchange “a little bit unfortunate” and suggesting “that we, to your point, not have this conversation here.”

“I would really appreciate it,” she said. “Can we table that for maybe another forum?”

Concepcion reiterated the request for Roy to put a lid on her comments during the public meeting and then tried to refocus the meeting onto the motion she had made to delegate many of Hilton-Creek’s acting executive director responsibilities to others.

But Roy had a question for Gasson: Is it correct that the CCC’s enabling law requires “an affirmative vote of three commissioners for any action taken by the commission?”

Gasson confirmed that three “yes” votes are required for a motion to pass the CCC.

With O’Brien suspended and Commissioner Nurys Camargo not participating in Thursday’s meeting, that meant that the motion to delegate acting executive director duties needed to pass unanimously among Concepcion, Stebbins and Roy.

“If we vote, due to the lack of time with this motion language, I will have to vote no. Or if we table it, then I will have time to be able to absorb and digest this motion language,” Roy said, referring to a lengthy and multi-part motion that Concepcion read aloud and shared in a private CCC chat during the meeting.

Concepcion asked if Roy had a preference between taking the vote or tabling the motion, and Roy said, “Sure, let’s vote.”

The motion failed on a 2–1 vote, with Concepcion and Stebbins in support and Roy dissenting.

Roy and Stebbins were not available on Tuesday to talk about Thursday’s meeting, the CCC said. Stebbins fielded one question about Roy’s assertions during a post-meeting press conference last week, but he did not directly answer the question, according to audio provided by the CCC.

The idea of carving up Hilton-Creek’s acting executive director duties was meant, Concepcion said, to allow her to focus more on her job as chief people officer to “really make sure that the executive director search moves along, moves along in a timely manner, and that she’s able to have more time for that, while also recognizing and empowering the other chiefs of the CCC.”

Stebbins said during the meeting that he thought realigning the executive duties would be helpful “for us to give some direction to our acting ED and chief people officer as to where we hope she can focus her time.”

“And it’s not just the ED’s role. It’s we have a number of people who are in acting capacities, and those searches have started up, and this is really about building and solidifying our team going forward, especially with all the work that’s on our plate,” he said.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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