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Rowan commissioners shake up ABC Board, criticize spending

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
Rowan County commissioners shook up the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board on Monday, voting to replace member Gus Andrews with Linda Lowman, a former general manager of the ABC system who was critical of the current operation in a letter seeking the appointment.
Andrews had sought reappointment to the board. Commissioners approved Lowman instead on a split vote.
And commissioners made clear they want more in profits from the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC system and less in credit card charges.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell said county leaders and the ABC Board must work to restore public confidence in the ABC system. He said the ABC system can’t survive the negative publicity in the newspaper and on television.
Commissioners listened to a nearly hour-long presentation from the ABC Board members and General Manager Terry Osborne on efforts to revamp the operations, add three stores in Kannapolis, increase profits and emphasize control through law enforcement and educational efforts targeting teens.
Discussing thousands of dollars in credit card charges at restaurants and hotels, commissioners left no doubt the charges have to end or be severely cut back.
Commissioner Tina Hall said she doesn’t think the charges will ever be acceptable.
Mitchell called for the ABC Board to “get a handle” on the credit card charges.
Vice Chairman Jon Barber agreed the policy on credit card usage needs to be strengthened and said there needs to be transparency in ABC operations.
Barber lamented how the ABC issue has played out in the media, saying the negativity hurts the efforts of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission to recruit industry to the county. He said other competing EDCs are using the issue against the county.
Barber suggested that part of the problem arose because commissioners didn’t have a liaison to the ABC Board from 2004 to 2008.
Barber called for annual reports from the ABC Board, while Mitchell ticked off a list of potential ways profits can be increased.
Mitchell suggested the board cut back on its efforts to quickly pay off debt, reduce the $900,000 working capital it retains and look at buying land and building stores instead of paying $100,000 or more a year on leases.
Chairman Marny Hendrick noted that with the expansion into Kannapolis, the system now covers the largest geographical area in the state.
Board members Andrews and Ken Argo joined in making the case that they have turned around a system that had outdated policies, bloated salaries and was inefficient when they came on board in 2004.
Exchanges between ABC officials and commissioners were generally amicable, with one exception.
Osborne and other ABC officials repeatedly cited the benefits of a close working relationship with the Century Council, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization for distillers. The organization provides free literature, speakers and materials to fight underage drinking.
Most of the Washington trips charged on ABC reports involved meeting with the Century Council or other distiller-related agencies.
Hall cited a conversation with Mike Herring, administrator of the State ABC system. She quoted Herring as saying “it’s a waste to to go to the Century Council,” and that materials are available from the state.
Osborne said he resented that comment, adding that state ABC officials “don’t understand what we’re doing.”
Osborne also defended repeated charges at a tavern in Charlottesville, Va., saying that it’s a refurbished historical facility that he routinely took students to on tours of Washington. The former West Rowan High School teacher estimated he had taken 3,000 students to the tavern over the years.
Hall cited meetings with several ABC general managers across the state in an effort to better understand ABC operations and the failure of the local system to generate more profits.
She noted managers pointed to the many ways money can be stolen.
“We deal in a lot of cash,” Hendrick said, adding that ABC officials know immediately if there is a discrepancy in receipts.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain praised ABC officials for their efforts to generate profits and the many changes they have made over the past few years.
Commissioners agreed to have a meeting with the ABC Board at some point to reach agreement on future profit distributions and other issues.
A half hour or so after the presentation ended, commissioners voted on filling the ABC Board seat held by Andrews, a former chairman of the board of commissioners.
Coltrain nominated Andrews, who had applied for reappointment.
Hall nominated Lowman.
Hall, Ford and Mitchell backed Lowman. Coltrain and Barber supported Andrews.
Andrews was first appointed to the ABC Board in 2004 to fill the unexpired term of Commissioner Frank Tadlock. In 2006, Andrews was reappointed to a three-year term.
Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer attended the meeting, but made no comment.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.

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