Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission taps Russell Thomas as new executive director

NASHVILLE - Tennessee's main agency in charge of alcoholic beverage licensure, regulation and enforcement has a new chief, a former Davidson County assistant prosecutor.

Attorney Russell Thomas was sworn in Monday as the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission's new executive director in a ceremony at the agency's headquarters. He was appointed last week by TABC's three commissioners.

Thomas said in a news release that he was "excited to continue the good work of the Commission by operating in a business-friendly, technology savvy and accessible manner, while ensuring that the laws are fully enforced to keep Tennesseans safe."

The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulates and enforces state laws that govern the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol throughout the state. It has both regulatory and licensing responsibilities while also operating a law enforcement division.

Thomas replaces interim director Zack Blair and former Director Clay Byrd. Blair took a job in Gov. Bill Lee's new administration while Byrd resigned last fall to join the Adams and Reese law and lobbying firm. There Byrd heads the firm's Tennessee alcoholic beverage practice and serve as part of the firm's state government relations team, according to a blog written by Will Cheek, an attorney with the Waller law firm's alcoholic beverage practice team.

Tullahoma native Thomas holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and earned his law degree from UT.

He practiced for four years as an assistant DA in Nashville and from 2007 until now as a solo practitioner in criminal defense and general civil litigation.

TABC Deputy Chief John Pallas called Thomas "a man of integrity, with exceptional leadership skills, who shares in the vision and core values of the TABC."

In 2018, TABC conducted 3,000 compliance checks, issued over 700 retail food store licenses, 3000 liquor-by the-drink licenses, 16 manufacturer licenses and 30,000 server permits.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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