WRAL Investigates

State liquor regulators adopt ethics reforms

Posted January 13, 2010 11:03 a.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2010 8:59 p.m. EST

— The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Wednesday 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.

"This is going to change how (ABC) boards do business in this state," said Mike Herring, chief administrator of the state commission.

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."

Williams' statement referred to a $12,700 dinner that distiller Diageo North America hosted for members of the Mecklenburg County ABC Board and guests. The menu included lobster, crab cakes and steak, and the alcohol bill included Crown Royal and Dom Perignon.

The Mecklenburg County board last month reimbursed Diageo more than $9,300 for the November dinner.

WRAL Investigates also disclosed that New Hanover County ABC administrator Billy Williams made $214,000 a year and a $30,000 bonus and that his son, Bradley Williams made $115,500 and a $20,000 bonus as assistant administrator.

The Williamses also flew first-class on a trip to Phoenix, where they stayed in a resort hotel and rented a luxury car, according to expense reports. Jon Williams said it appears that taxpayers picked up the tab for the trip.

"Let's be clear," Jon Williams said, "every dollar that comes into the ABC system in this state is a dollar that belongs to the public. The public's money is not what is left over at the end."

All three members of that county's ABC board resigned last week as county officials called for a review of the salaries, and Williams submitted his retirement paperwork.

ABC liquor stores across the state have a wide range of employee salaries and policies. Fewer than half of the 163 local boards said they have salary policies, and a little more than half have an ethics policy in place.

Top 15 ABC board salaries

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Perdue has ordered a review of local store administrator salaries, and her budget reform commission looking at the ABC system for possible changes.

"There is a statewide code of behavior and a statewide code of ethics and transparency that they will follow," Perdue said. "I hope they come voluntarily, but if they don't come voluntarily, we'll change the law and make them come."