Not criminal perhaps, but disturbing

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 08:51 AM

The Durham ABC Board might not have crossed the line into malfeasance or criminal activity, as the results of a yearlong probe into the agency suggest.

But the 86-page report includes indications that its members certainly staggered close to the line with questionable decisions ranging from hiring a computer consultant with connections to board member Erroll Reese to Reese’s rental of a Maryland hotel room for personal use to the hiring of Emily Page – a former ABC Board member – as the agency’s general manager.

The investigation, requested by ABC Commission Chief Mike Herring, started in May 2012. The commission regulates alcohol sales throughout North Carolina and oversees county ABC boards.

The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg this week shared details of the report. Despite the lack of obvious broken laws, state investigator Alan Fields found troubling, sometimes downright dysfunctional, behavior among board members and other ABC officials.

It concerns us, for example, that Reese at first denied that he had communicated with computer consultant Rex Wills, a fellow Alabama A&M University alum and former IBM employee, who would go on to receive nearly $40,000 to help fix the board’s computers. Ultimately, Reese conceded that he knew Wills as of 2011, but only, it would seem, because Fields turned up an email by Reese that included the logo of Wills’ company.

Page opted against using a different firm, one that had been preferred by other ABC administrators. Days after board Chairwoman Kim Shaw informed Fields that she was “concerned” and “angry” about Page’s decision, the board announced Page’s resignation.

We’re also worried about the appearance of potential impropriety involving Derrick McMillan, the agency’s Chief of Law Enforcement, and his nebulous relationship with Durham’s Rick Hendrick car dealership.

The ABC Board buys its police vehicles there. The board got a $6,000 credit from the dealership for trading in a Chevrolet Impala with less than 86,000 miles on it and a tax value of $12,110. The dealership then turned around and sold the car to McMillan for $3,300, according to ABC Board attorney George Miller.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles didn’t find anything illegal in that transaction, Fields reported. But it’s just one more dubious incident in what has proven to be an unexpectedly tumultuous period for such a small government agency.

If nothing else, this report makes it clear that Durham County Commissioners made the right call in July when they replaced Reese on the board. It also shows that Page – former chair of the ABC Board when she was hired as general manager in October 2011 – was ill-suited for the job.

More changes might prove beneficial, but for now we’ll see how the agency acquits itself with new leadership and hope that those left from the old guard learn from their mistakes.