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Lawmakers 'water down' recommendations for ABC reform

A plan to make local Alcoholic Beverage Control boards adhere to statewide ethics rules was thrown out this week by a panel of lawmakers. North Carolina's alcohol sales system was already under scrutiny for being outdated and inefficient. But a series of controversies earlier this year prompted the formation of legislative committee to recommend specific changes. For example, Mecklenburg County's ABC board was found to have indulged in a $12,700 holiday meal compliments of a liquor company with which it did frequent business. Senator Dan Clodfelter says the legislative committee "watered-down" several key ethics provisions. "I would prefer that we have clear rules in place to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future," says Clodfelter. Rather than make local ABC boards subject to statewide ethics rules, the committee decided boards should be held to the same rules as the local governments that appoint them. Mecklenburg County's ethical guidelines are similar to the State Ethics Act, but Clodfelter says many other counties and towns have weaker standards. The legislative committee also relaxed its recommendations on salary caps and financial procedures for ABC boards. North Carolina is the only state that gives virtually all control of liquor sales to local boards. The General Assembly will debate ABC system reform when it convenes next week.