WRAL Investigates

Former ABC board member defends, questions salaries

Posted January 11, 2010
Updated January 13, 2010

— Stephen Culbreth, a former member of the New Hanover County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board said in an interview with WRAL News that, in light of recent controversy, the board probably should have paid their top administrator less money.

The state's ABC liquor system, including New Hanover County, is under fire for its big bonuses, perks and salaries that are all over the map.

The backlash has been heavy in Wilmington for Culbreth who resigned, along with the other two members of the board, just hours before county commissioners were to discuss New Hanover County’s ABC salaries.

Stephen Culbreth Web only: Extended interview with ABC board member

In their resignation letter, Chairman Charles Wells and members Richard Hanson and Culbreth said "the divisiveness of the continuing disputes (have) become more insidious and disruptive of the functioning of the ABC system."

While Wells earned $3,000 and Hanson and Culbreth earned $2,400 last year, they oversaw the highest-paid ABC administrator in the state, Billy Williams, who made $214,000 a year with a $30,000 bonus, even though Mecklenburg County does triple the sales.

His son, Bradley Williams, got a $20,000 bonus in each of those years on a base salary of $115,500.

Culbreth said Billy Williams already made a large salary when he came on the board two years ago. Culbreth defended his former board and said the county has lost valuable experience.

“On that board was a retired banker who has looked at balance sheets his whole life and said, ‘This is the best business I’ve ever seen,’” Culbreth said.

New Hanover County is typically in the top five systems for highest percent of profit.

“I’m from the old school where you reward loyalty and good performance,” Culbreth said.

A WRAL investigation revealed varying policies on gifts and salaries across the state. Mecklenburg County ABC employees were criticized after liquor company representatives treated them to a $12,000 holiday party.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake. “As a state legislator, we’re not allowed to do that kind of thing.”

While opinions on what to do vary, state lawmakers on both sides are calling for changes.

“I do think it’s appropriate for the state to take a look at this,” Hunt said. “We need to sit down and look at the pay and the perks.”

Culbreth said he knows nothing about meals provided to ABC employees in New Hanover County, but says salaries would be hard to regulate.

When asked if Billy Williams should have made $100,000 less a year, Culbreth said “maybe not $100,000 less, but something less, yes.”

Culbreth says the information that is now available about salaries across the state would've helped him when he was a board member.

Wake County ABC Administrator Craig Pleasants, who made $141,000 last year, said he will receive a 1 percent cost of living raise this year. In June, the Wake County ABC board decided not to give bonuses to employees this year due to the economy.


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  • donnied1952 Jan 12, 2010

    The really sad part is these people knew they were being overpaid and didn't even have to show up at work and they just kept quiet and kept taking out tax paid money.

    They should all be in jail for corruption, bribery and a whole laundry list of charges.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jan 12, 2010

    What group of people do you think would be the biggest blockade in getting liquor sold in private stores?

    Hints: It's not the goverment. And, they hold services every Sunday.

    Heck, we're still trying to fight the religious Blue Laws. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_law

  • WHEEL Jan 12, 2010

    Banker says it was one of the best business models he had ever seen. The only business in the County selling, with State enforcement, an addictive substance is a pretty good start.

  • pbjbeach Jan 12, 2010


    It doesnt really matter what their party afflation is corruption is corruption in my estimation. But when you get right down to it they were probably (blue dog democrats) because they aren't any different than a right-winged wing nut of the republican party Thank You

  • pbjbeach Jan 12, 2010

    I personaly fail to to see the difference in what these employees have accepted gifts from the industry in which they work an why is this any different than our good old boy network of legisturs respresentives an state senators being on the take from the people that lobby them everyday to get things done their way graft is graft regardles of where it come from thank you

  • BULLDOZER Jan 12, 2010

    Always ask yourself this question, "How much would the free market pay these folks to run a liquor store?" The answer is, a whole lot less than they are being paid. Yet, ANOTHER great example of government run 'anything' run badly and over budget.

  • chfdcpt Jan 12, 2010

    Sort of like how much we are paying the Wake Co school superintendant. And the funny thing is that the schools are not getting any better.

  • gcmann Jan 11, 2010

    For that kind of money they must of been paid by the drink - theirs, not the public's.

  • superman67112005 Jan 11, 2010

    Gas = Liquor

    Does anyone see the connection?

    Gas sells. Sells to public at high price while company makes record profits each quarter. Poor man goes broke.

    Liquor sells. Sells to public at higher cost than a pepsi. Record Salaries. Poor man goes broke, but broke with a smile.

  • lynnsings Jan 11, 2010

    If North Carolina wants to truly be a modern, up & coming State...they need to relinquish the sale of liquor to privately owned businesses. They would still receive any set taxes but save on the extravagant salaries and "good 'ol boy" politics that continue to haunt and hamper our continued success. It's 2010...get with it!