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Editorial: ABC Board gets reprieve

Rowan County commissioners have put a scare into members of the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board, and for good reason. The system has been producing little profit and operating in a less-than-transparent manner. But the lack of majority support among commissioners Monday for ousting ABC Board members is probably the fairest outcome.
Now the ABC Board has a chance to do its job better and see to fruition the improvements it has already put in place.
Commissioners have given the ABC Board the same treatment they gave the Rowan Jobs Initiative last year. With Commissioner Tina Hall leading the charge, they focused laser-like attention on the operation and its finances, suddenly wanting to know everything when for so long they seemed indifferent. Still, Hall’s questions were legitimate, and the ABC Board might have done everyone a favor by turning over the information immediately instead of pushing back.
If North Carolina had a clearer chain of command and uniform operating procedures for local ABC boards, this controversy probably would not have arisen. As it is, each ABC system operates in its own little universe. Board meetings are open by law, but the board doesn’t seem to answer to anyone. As a result, members of the Rowan-Kannapolis board came to believe they had more power and independence than they actually do. And their general manager did the same.
That issue now has been straightened out in a public and, for the board, embarrassing way. The irony is that board members have focused a great deal recently on improving the operation and becoming more profitable. But they may not have moved quickly enough and they certainly didn’t make the process transparent. At a time when local government needed them to pump up profits as much as possible, the staff was spending fairly freely until auditor’s reports flagged some practices and the board set stricter policies.
The good news for the ABC Board is that members now have a chance to continue in their quest to increase profits and, at the same time, redeem themselves in the eyes of the public. Hall’s inquiry has found nothing illegal, but perception is everything. The board’s resistance to commissioners was great fodder for cynics who like to bash government, especially when it has the extra kick of involving liquor sales.
Case closed? That depends. The only clear mandate now is for the board to operate as openly and efficiently as possible. The board and the staff must be frugal enough and vigilant enough to hold up to public scrutiny if and when it comes again. Having revenue of $8 million a year could lead a person to think his agency has money to spare for trips and meals with colleagues. But there is no such thing as money to spare.

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