County Board Says Keep ABC Control Local
The Moore County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to support continued local control of the statewide ABC system.
The county will express that in letters to Gov. Beverly Perdue, Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, state House Speaker Joe Hackney, state Sen. Harris Blake and state Rep. Jamie Boles.
"Alcohol in our county is and should be a strictly controlled situation," John Garner, chairman of the the Moore County Alcohol Beverage Control Board, told the commissioners.
Garner said privatization would have a negative financial impact on Moore County because none of the profits would be distributed locally. He said the losses would amount to $433,238 for the county, $309,712 for the municipalities, $156,000 for law enforcement and $72,000 for organizations for alcohol education.
There have been calls from some quarters in recent weeks - including an editorial in Friday's edition of The Pilot - for the ABC system, now under state and local control, to be privatized.
That has come in response to revelations about the Mecklenburg County board chairman and a number of employees being treated to a $9,000 dinner hosted in November by a liquor company and that the New Hanover board handed out generous salaries and bonuses to key employees.
Garner told The Pilot in an earlier interview that members of the Moore County ABC Board and its employees don't even accept a Coke or a hamburger from alcohol beverage companies. He said he is outraged at the practices reported recently in those other counties. It does not happen here, he said.
"We just don't put up with that kind of stuff," Garner said in a telephone interview from his business in Seven Lakes.
More than 160 ABC boards administer the sale and control of alcoholic beverages across North Carolina, and Garner pointed out that Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties are just two of those boards.
"Unfortunately there are a few bad apples in every barrel," he said.
As for salaries, the Moore County staff receives compensation at a relatively conservative level.
Pamela Smith, manager of the county system, is paid a salary of $54,000 this fiscal year. That figure includes a 2 percent pay raise. Her salary for the fiscal year ending June 30 was $52,104, and she received a $700 bonus because the system she administers is the seventh most profitable system in North Carolina.
"Most of us in North Carolina are not like that," Smith said in reference to the pay scale reported earlier this month in New Hanover County, where the top executive received a compensation package of $245,000 last year.
Smith has an office manager in the main office in Southern Pines. They are responsible for management of all finances for the ABC system here and oversight of the four ABC stores. Individual stores have a limited staff as well.
Each has a manager, and there is a full-time clerk in stores in Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen. The Carthage store, smallest of the four, has only a manager and one part-time staffer. The other three stores also have a handful of part-time employees who work as needed.
Garner said his board and local ABC personnel strictly follow the law when it comes to accepting gifts, even the least expensive of gifts, and that the board adheres to a three-year plan in basing salaries and raises for personnel. He says the pay scale is in keeping with pay levels established for law enforcement and office personnel.
"No one is allowed to accept a gift, not even a Coca-Cola or a hamburger," he said. "We're very strict about that. We go by the rules, strictly by the rules. There are no secrets."
Revelations about the extravagant meal in Mecklenburg County and the $330,000-plus in salaries and $50,000 bonuses paid to father and son administrators in New Hanover County have renewed calls in some quarters for the state to abandon its local control boards and turn the sale of alcoholic beverages over to private interests.
The current system dates to Prohibition days and reflects North Carolina's longtime conservative view about alcoholic beverages.
But Garner said privatization would be a mistake because it would deprive local governments and alcohol rehabilitation programs of profits from sales generated through state operation of the system.
In addition, the Moore County board has a contract with the Sheriff's Department to provide law enforcement service for ABC laws.
Moore ranks among the top in the state in terms of ABC profits. Garner estimates that it ranks about seventh profit-wise across North Carolina.
Garner said ABC laws are strictly enforced in Moore County, where personnel in stores, bars and other businesses are required to check the age of customers.
"We pay our bills on time and pay our people on time," he said.
Moore County ABC operations are audited annually by Dixon-Hughes, which has never found anything wrong with the books.
"We don't even have a nickle spent except where it's supposed to be," Garner said.
Garner said the problems in Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties were from a lack of control and a failure to pay attention to the law and their own regulations. He said that when the local board holds a get-together, alcoholic beverages are not served in any form.
Garner praised the other four members of his board for hard work and high ethical standards. In addition to Garner, the board includes Sam Riddle III, of Carthage; Louis Gregory, of West End;and Thomas S. Kees, of Pinehurst. Former Sheriff James W. Wise, who died Thursday, was a member of the board.
The embarrassment generated by the Mecklenburg and New Hanover happenings has promoted Perdue to call for a tightening of ABC regulations and adoption of a more open and stringent set of ethics. Perdue is a former member of the Craven County ABC Board.
Garner said his board already follows a strict set of ethical standards and keeps close tabs on every cent handled by the Moore County system. He said he is aware that many people do not approve of alcoholic beverages but added that the program was implemented in Moore County by a vote of the people.
The reasoning behind those votes, he explains, is to make sure the sales of alcoholic beverages are controlled and that the profits are used to benefit the local community.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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