WRAL Investigates

Former ABC board member defends, questions salaries

Posted January 11, 2010 6:05 p.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2010 6:49 a.m. EST

— 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.

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.