Regional Report Western November 2011
ABC boards take their shots
Tar Heels are learning their ABCs don’t always follow the letter of the law. Curtis Canty resigned as CEO of Asheville Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in September after state Alcohol Law Enforcement investigators reported he had, among other things, solicited free booze for his sons’ weddings, used the board’s credit card for personal reasons and gotten free goodies from liquor distributors, including meals and field passes for a Carolina Panthers game. State law prohibits members and employees of local ABC boards — which operate government-run liquor stores — from taking gifts from vendors.
Canty won’t be prosecuted, but his is the latest in a series of messes for ABC boards. In January 2010, the entire New Hanover County board resigned amid controversy over the $350,000 combined annual salaries paid to Administrator Billy Williams and his son, Assistant Administrator Bradley Williams. (In August, a jury convicted the elder Williams of having a contractor build him a garage that was billed as work on a liquor store; he got two years’ probation and a $21,930 fine.) That same January, Mecklenburg County ABC Board Chairman Parks Helms resigned after ALE found that Diageo North America Inc., a Connecticut-based liquor distributor, picked up the $12,700 tab for a “holiday dinner” for him and some Mecklenburg ABC employees at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Charlotte. (Canty also dined there on Diageo.)
North Carolina is among 18 states with a government monopoly on liquor sales but the only one with boards that are appointed by local authorities and tasked with running retail operations. The system has been around since the end of Prohibition, and despite the recent scandals, it probably won’t change.
“There has been talk of having the state get out of the business of selling liquor,” Michael Crowell, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill School of Government, wrote on his local-government blog. “That seems unlikely to happen soon in light of the current economic situation and the $250 million in revenue the ABC systems pay to state and local government each year.” Charles Worley, chairman of Asheville ABC, agrees. “It is a huge source of income to cities and counties. We do a lot of other things private companies would not do,” such as funding education and substance-abuse programs required by the state.
Canty was paid $120,000 before bonuses. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law making it illegal to pay an ABC general manager more than the county clerk of court. So Canty’s replacement can’t make more than $102,000. Hopefully, it’s still enough to go Dutch at Del Frisco’s.