WRAL Investigates

State examines ABC boards' salaries, ethics policies

Posted December 16, 2009 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2009 7:14 p.m. EST

— 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."

For example, the highest ABC board salary in the state belongs to New Hanover County's administrator. He makes $214,000 a year with a $30,000 bonus, even though Mecklenburg County does triple the sales. In Asheville, the CEO received a $21,000 raise this year.

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.

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.

“Our oversight is to find if they broke any ABC laws or the spirit of those laws,” Williams said.

Mecklenburg County's ABC Board is under investigation for allowing a liquor company to pay for a holiday dinner. The state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division investigated the $9,334.14 dinner at Del Frisco's steakhouse.

Mecklenburg County ABC board chairman Parks Helms said the dinner was a mistake. He said the dinner for 28 people may have appeared improper, and the board will revise its policies.

London-based Diageo had paid the bill. Its brands include Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker Scotch.

"On behalf of the ABC commission, I am pleased to learn the Mecklenburg County ABC is taking steps to ensure that this situation is not repeated in the future and also has taken action to address some of the specific questions surrounding the propriety of receiving a gift of this nature," Williams said.

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

In an interview last month, Louisburg General Manager Danny Matthews said there's a reason for the current system of local control.

“Each town controls the profits and where they go,” he said.

In Louisburg, profits help fund law enforcement and alcohol prevention projects, but the state has no say in how profitable each store must be.

Top 15 ABC board salaries

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