Liquor officials lay down new ethics law for ABC boards

Liquor officials lay down new ethics law for ABC boards

Print
Email
|

by STUART WATSON / NewsChannel 36

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on December 15, 2010 at 10:04 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 15 at 10:09 AM

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- This week hundreds of North Carolina's local liquor board members gather for their annual meeting at the Myrtle Beach Marriott at Grand Dunes.

But on this particular morning, they're not at the pool, not on the beach and not on the golf course.

Atlantic Ballrooms 4 and 5 are filled with Alcoholic Beverage Control board members listening to the chairman of the state's ABC Commission explain a new law passed by the state legislature in the short session only weeks before.

Governor Beverly Perdue's office announced she will sign the bill at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the state ABC Commission office in Raleigh.

The bill includes tough new ethics provisions, a response to a series of scandals in Wilmington and Charlotte.

In New Hanover County voters choked on the six figure salaries of a father-and-son team administering local liquor stores.

In Charlotte, the WCNC-TV NewsChannel 36 I-Team broke the story of liquor sales reps from one of the nation's largest distillers wining and dining ABC staff at a $13,000 holiday dinner party at Del Frisco's steak house in the South Park area.

After the story broke, the Mecklenburg ABC board chairman, a veteran of many political campaigns, and the CEO of the state's largest liquor board, both resigned.

The Mecklenburg County Commission, which appoints the board, took a renewed interest in scrutinizing the resumes of board members.

Additionally, lawmakers passed an ethics reform billed aimed squarely at ABC boards.

Rep. Pryor Gibson, a Democrat from Wadesboro, told the assembled board members, "There were a few bad apples and we had to wash the whole bunch."

Where some board members once professed that wining and dining by liquor sales reps was a gray area in the law, ABC Commission Chair Jon Williams draws a bright line: "It is absolutely prohibited."

Mike Myrick, the president of the NC Association of ABC Boards, said the new ethics law was the result of what he called "negative media attention."

Williams said the scandals gave the ABC boards the chance to redeem their reputations and acknowledged that the actions of a few had tarred the entire group.

But when it comes to wining and dining the answer is clear.

"Under our ethics policy we can't take a key chain from anyone," says new Mecklenburg CEO Paul Stroup.

The reform is not limited to gifts. Lawmakers responded to the pay scandal in New Hanover County by capping ABC board pay at the annual salary of the clerk of Superior Court, $112,000 a year.

However, the law grandfathers in existing salaries and allows ABC staff to appeal to their appointing boards, usually county commissioners or city council members, to exceed the cap.
Mecklenburg County has five staffers earning six figures each. Wake County's ABC, the nearest in size, has only one.

But with the ABC system volunteering a five percent increase in its contribution to the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County budgets, including a line item for libraries, there is no move to cut pay at the ABC board.
 

Print
Email
|