Blatchford resigns as commerce head

Newspaper story alleges conflicts of interest between state, Native corp. positions

Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Edgar Blatchford, the commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development, has resigned amid allegations of conflicts of interest between his state job and his leadership position with a Native corporation.

Blatchford, who on Friday also resigned as a director of Chugach Alaska Corp., wrote Gov. Frank Murkowski that his resignation was effective July 22. In the letter, he said he wanted to avoid embarrassing the administration.

"The events of the last several days, as reflected in a recent newspaper story, cause me to be concerned about embarrassment to the administration," Blatchford wrote in the letter dated July 18. "Because of my respect for you and my colleagues I do not want that to happen and believe my resignation will prevent it."

Blatchford, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.

He is the second member of Murkowski's cabinet to resign this year under pressure from conflict-of-interest allegations. In February, Gregg Renkes stepped down as attorney general over questions about his personal stake in an international coal deal he helped put together.

Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said Tuesday that the governor accepted Blatchford's resignation but declined to comment on it.

Deputy Commissioner Al Clough has been appointed acting commissioner. There were no immediate plans to find a permanent replacement, Hultberg said.

On Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News ran a story detailing a company report that alleged wrongdoing by Blatchford and fellow board member Robert Henrichs, whom Blatchford helped elect.

According to the Daily News article, the report accused Blatchford and Henrichs of committing "multiple breaches of their ethical duties." The report said Blatchford had a conflict of interest as both a watchdog of Native corporations and a leader of one.

Among the accusations, Blatchford allegedly filed complaints against a rival board faction with the Division of Banking and Securities, which he oversaw as commissioner.

The report also accused Henrichs of misusing corporation money, charging state Senate campaign expenses and apartment rent to Chugach.

Blatchford had been the agency's commissioner since January 2003. From 1990 to 1994 he was then-Gov. Wally Hickel's commissioner of the Department of Community and Regional Affairs.

He was the mayor of Seward and a journalism professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage before joining the Murkowski administration. He is a former editor and publisher for Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes weekly newspapers in Cordova, Seward, Bethel and Valdez.

• Associated Press Writer Timothy Inklebarger contributed to this report.

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