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Ore. liquor agency workers back embattled boss

Ore. liquor agency workers back embattled boss
Oregon Liquor Control Commission Director Steve Pharo listens to public comments supporting him in Portland, Ore., Thursday, April 5, 2012. This is the Commission's first meeting since Pharo said the Oregon governor's office had asked him to step down. The commission had been scheduled to discuss Pharo's employment but dropped that from its agenda without explanation. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Some employees of Oregon's top liquor regulator are sticking up for their boss, who says the governor wants him out.

Workers signed a letter declaring their support for Steve Pharo, director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for the last six years, and gave it Thursday to the commissioners who oversee the agency. Two other people also testified in support of Pharo.

Last month, Pharo told The Oregonian that an aide to Gov. John Kitzhaber asked him to quit but didn't give a reason. The commission had planned to discuss Pharo's employment at a Thursday meeting, but it took that item off the agenda less than 24 hours before it met.

"He is honest, forthright and trustworthy," said Barb Moore, who collected signatures and works in the purchasing and distribution department. It was unknown how many employees had signed the letter.

Pharo, the governor's office and commissioners have refused to comment.

Most state agency directors serve at the pleasure of the governor, but the OLCC director reports instead to the five commissioners, who are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

A.L. "Skipper" Osborne, founder of an organization called Truth and Justice for All, praised Pharo's work at the OLCC and said the governor's office was wrong to intervene.

"It is the OLCC board's position to fire a director, not Kitzhaber's," Osborne told the commission.

Last month, the commission approved a pilot program to allow more outlets to stock beer and wine and to make it easier for big grocery chains to sell hard liquor. The commission also approved a liquor license for Cartlandia, a pod of food carts in southeast Portland.

Talk of privatizing the state-controlled system also has heated up after Washington state began moving in that direction.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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