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Editorial: ABC not so simple

What appeared 48 hours ago to be a refusal by the local ABC Board to share financial records now is being painted as a misunderstanding.
Whatever it was, let this incident be a reminder to citizens, legislators and public officials that North Carolina has strong open meetings and public records laws for good reason: to help citizens keep an eye on government. In this case, the laws can help one part of government keep an eye on another.
The ABC system is a strange creature. The state ABC Commission operates a central liquor warehouse to supply products for the stores, but the stores are run by local ABC boards, each a public body with its own bureaucracy. The state commission gets involved only if there is a major problem with a local board, such as corruption.
The Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board is clearly a public body whose records are, as state law puts it, “the property of the people.” Any citizen has the power to ask for and receive public records from public agencies and bodies, including the financial records commissioners seek now.
While commissioners are demanding public records, four of them met individually with ABC Board member Ken Argo on Tuesday and Wednesday ó since meeting with them together would be a breach of the open meetings law. But county commissioners Chairman Carl Ford is refusing to set a special meeting between the county commissioners and the entire ABC Board, which consists of Argo and two other people.

Let’s hope this turns out to be much ado about nothing and that commissioners are able to solve the big mystery ó why it is that Rowan and Kannapolis have not reaped as much profit from their ABC stores as most local governments do. Commissioners were well within their rights to ask for an explanation, including information about salaries, bonuses and credit card statements. When general manager Terry Osborne appeared to refuse to turn over the records without his board’s approval, it was the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Now Osborne says he just wanted time to gather the records and inform his board before giving Rowan County commissioners the records they sought; he wasn’t refusing to share the records. That’s a wise clarification.
When all this information comes together, commissioners should have a better idea of whether it’s necessary to pursue an efficiency study of the local ABC operation. The more detailed the information they receive from Osborne, the more likely there will be some clarity on what should come next.

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