Commissioners shuffle ABC Board

Jul. 30, 2013 @ 05:22 PM

County Commissioners have sacked two of the five members of Durham’s ABC Board, replacing them with appointees who may be more aligned with the county’s budgetary agenda.

Monday’s 3-1 vote denied new terms to ABC Board members Michael Nelson and Erroll Reese.

The appointments went instead to Rufus Sales, a former director of Butner’s Public Safety Department, and Andy Miller, a lieutenant in N.C. Central University’s police department and former Durham Police Department captain.

Commissioners acted against the wishes of ABC Board Chairwoman Kim Shaw, who emailed them Monday afternoon to plead for the reappointment of Nelson and Reese.

She said the two are heading research into whether the board, as a cost-saving move, should outsource its two-person ABC police unit to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Removing them “would significantly impact the progress of this project,” Shaw told the commissioners.

She also voiced fears that the pair were paying with their seats for an ongoing state investigation of the Durham ABC Board. The state is looking into the board’s contracting practices and the fall 2011 hiring of board General Manager Emily Page.

Shaw said the new director of N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, Gregory Baker, had assured her there was “nothing that will be in the report about” the probe to give commissioners reason to hold off on reappointing Nelson and Reese.

Baker “expects the report to be released in the next couple of weeks,” Shaw added.

But Commission Chairman Fred Foster on Tuesday signaled that the decision turned not on any concern about the investigation, but on the county’s desire for a bigger budgetary contribution from the ABC Board.

He noted that the board is looking for a replacement for Page, who submitted her resignation in early May.

Sales and Miller should “bring a new perspective, with the new manager coming in, [on] what the goal is as far as getting more funds out of the organization into our general fund,” Foster said.

“I don’t think the current board was in the same mood – and you don’t want to spend all your time trying to fuss and discuss,” he continued. “The goal is to deliver services for the entire community, not just for the ABC Board.”

Foster was alluding to the state-mandated profit-sharing the board that operates Durham’s chain of state-owned liquor stores has to give the county and the city.

Durham County annually receives about $1 million from the ABC Board, but the county’s fiscal 2013-14 budget assumed that will increase to about $1.5 million.

The assumed increase in ABC money helped commissioners balance the 2013-14 budget, while also giving the Durham Public Schools more than County Manager Mike Ruffin initially recommended.

Ruffin told commissioners in June that Page was “comfortable” with the change, although the ABC Board had been reluctant.

Foster – who joined commissioners Brenda Howerton and Michael Page in voting for the Sales/Miller slate – also said the appointees’ backgrounds will help them evaluate the idea of outsourcing ABC police work.

The ABC Board’s in-house cops are responsible primarily for inspecting stores and bars in Durham that have licenses to sell alcohol.

Sales and Miller “will be at least open and receptive to” the idea of handing that work over to the sheriff’s office, Foster said, adding that they can supply a professional opinion and “balanced approach” to the issue.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow voted Monday to retain Nelson and Reese. She did so after urging colleagues to postpone the decision to buy time for the state to release the findings of its investigation.

Foster brushed off the delay request. “We’re going to vote,” he told his colleagues.

ABC Board members serve three-year terms and can remain on the board no more than eight years, County Clerk Michelle Parker-Evans said.