WRAL Investigates

New Hanover ABC board members resign amid salary review

Posted January 4, 2010 3:12 p.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2010 3:53 p.m. EST

— All three New Hanover County Alcoholic Beverage Control board members resigned Monday, the same day county commissioners planned to discuss the salary of the ABC board's administrator.

In their resignation letter, Chairman Charles Wells and members Richard Hanson and Stephen 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 who made $214,000 a year with a $30,000 bonus, even though Mecklenburg County does triple the sales.

"In order to allow the dissipation of misunderstandings emerging from a sector of the public's perception of our performance as Board members of this ABC system, we hearby resign," the letter stated.

ABC liquor stores across the state have a wide range of employee salaries and policies. That's because the state ABC commissioner has little say in how business is done, even though liquor sales are government-controlled in North Carolina.

“We don’t have any operational control over them at all,” said ABC Commission Chair Jon Williams, who noted that each store is controlled by a local board. “Those 163 local boards are individual government offices."

One reason is that job responsibilities may differ from place to place. State officials said they aren’t sure, because no one tracks the information. At the direction of Gov. Bev Perdue, the state commission asked local ABC stores to submit salary and policy information.

Fewer than half of the boards said they have salary policies. As for ethics, a little more than half of the boards have a policy in place. Even then, the employees might still be allowed to accept gifts from industry members.

New Hanover ABC officials said they have both ethics and salary policies in place. Their members are prohibited from receiving gifts. However, the ethics policy allows for payment of meals or other travel expenses by industry members or private dollars.

Some boards, such as Brunswick County, let supervisors and managers accept meals and golf privileges from vendors as long as it is offered to all managers and supervisors. In Angier, the ethics policy allows for meals from liquor industry representatives.

The state is only allowed to step in if there's proof a law was broken.

By gathering salary and policy information, state commission officials said they hope to let the public know what's going on with the boards.