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Chairman of Mecklenburg ABC board resigns post

The chairman of a North Carolina ABC board under scrutiny after board members were treated to a $9,000 holiday dinner by an international liquor company has resigned.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The chairman of the Mecklenburg County Alcoholic Beverage Control board resigned Thursday amid scrutiny of a $9,000 holiday dinner provided to the board by an international liquor company.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Mecklenburg County ABC Board Chairman Parks Helms announced his resignation in a letter sent to county commissioners Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts and County Manager Harry Jones.

Alcohol Law Enforcement agents last week issued a report alleging that local ABC board officials in Charlotte, international distiller Diageo, and the company's North Carolina marketing director violated laws on giving and accepting items of value. Helms and top board officers reimbursed Diageo.

ALE agents are also investigating whether a nearly $300 lunch for Mecklenburg ABC board officials at Charlotte's Ritz Carlton hotel paid by other liquor companies violated state law.

The announcement comes a day after the ABC called for tougher ethics standards by liquor distributors and local ABC boards in the wake of recent reports of lavish salaries and extravagant parties.

The commission immediately banned liquor manufacturers and distributors from providing anything of value, from cash to a meal, to employees of the state-run alcohol sales system, including local ABC boards.

Any company that violates the gift ban could have its state permit suspended or revoked, preventing it from selling alcohol in North Carolina.

The commission also urged local ABC boards to adopt travel policies that mirror the rules used by their county governments and to adopt a gift ban Gov. Beverly Perdue issued last fall for members of state-appointed boards.

Local ABC boards are independent entities, so the state commission can't require them to follow the recommendations. But state officials made it clear that they want the embarrassing stories of excess to stop.

"There is no way the public should be expected to foot the bill for select employees and family members to have a party of seemingly unlimited price and extravagance," state commission chairman Jon Williams said. "To think otherwise suggests a culture of entitlement at work that worries me."

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