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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dan Clodfelter Opposes New ABC Board Ethic Rules & Privatization

N.C. Senator Clodfelter: Guts New Ethic Rules For State ABC Stores

N.C. Lawmakers on Wednesday stripped out some of the toughest measures from a package of new laws governing the state's liquor store system.

"We gutted it," said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat who was critical of the changes.

He cast the lone "no" vote on the legislation approved by a special committee focused on the Alcoholic Beverage Control system.

The committee cut a requirement that members of local ABC boards must follow the state ethics law, even though a primary task assigned to the group was to craft a bill establishing consistent ethical standards across the state.

The committee was created in the aftermath of embarrassing revelations of the Mecklenburg ABC board's chair and some employees accepting a lavish dinner from a liquor company and six-figure salaries paid to the father and son team that ran the New Hanover County system.

Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat, said the state ethics law provision would put local ABC boards on different footing from other local boards and commissions that are subject to local ethics policies.

"It doesn't make sense to have mixed messages and mixed standards," Blue said.

The committee also sliced out a measure that would empower the state ABC Commission to take steps to improve an unprofitable or minimally profitable liquor store.

"If you want to have any teeth in this law to fix problem stores, this language does it," said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican.

The committee instead voted to put county commissions and city councils in charge of fixing the problems. Starnes said those groups are "too close to home," because they appoint the ABC boards.

Rep. Pryor Gibson, a Wadesboro Democrat, led several of the efforts to delete provisions from the bill, including a requirement that a community must have 5,000 registered voters before it could vote to create a local ABC board, which then can open a liquor store.

Gibson has repeatedly criticized such a restriction as discriminating against small towns.

The restriction grew out of criticisms, including in a report by legislative staffers, that the existing threshold of 500 registered voters to create an ABC board and subsequent store created unnecessary competition and inefficient stores.

More than 100 of the state's 169 ABC boards operate one store.

Brunswick County, for example, has nine ABC boards. Last year 10 ABC boards had a profit margin of 2 percent or less. Nine boards lost money.

State ABC Commission Chair Jon Williams said the bill still would provide "important new powers" for the commission.

The legislation approved Wednesday afternoon mirrors several provisions that Gov. Bev Perdue's budget reform commission recommended to her just an hour earlier, including:

Giving the state ABC Commission the authority to audit local boards.

Establishing a mission and performance standards for liquor stores.

Limiting the compensation of ABC board members and store operators.

The general manager and other top employees of a local ABC board could not be paid more than the local clerk of superior court.

That's currently $113,000 in both Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Current ABC compensation would be grandfathered, but four Mecklenburg County ABC board employees' pay exceeds that limit:

The CEO ($159,000), Chief Financial Officer ($130,000), Director of Operations ($120,000) and Director of Human Resources ($115,000). Wake County's General Manager's compensation is $142,000.

The legislation was amended, though, to let the county commission or city council approve higher salaries if the ABC board requested them.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, WRAL, Youtube, Google Maps

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