Town ABC board deals with state regulations, law enforcement
Indian Trail’s ABC Board is in compliance with North Carolina regulations, state officials say, despite the fact they have yet to hire a law enforcement officer to work with the group. The group’s status has been a question in recent weeks, with Mayor John Quinn asking the state’s ABC Commission and then the Governor’s Office to look into the board’s operations. Among his concerns, Quinn said, was the fact the Board had yet to sign a contract with the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s an issue of public safety, you don’t just blow it off,” Quinn said.
North Carolina statutes require a town’s ABC Board to contract for their own dedicated officer or deputy, who would be in charge of investigating drunk driving incidents, arrest minors attempting to buy liquor and deal with other alcohol related issues. Additionally, the Board has to pay at least 5 percent of their net revenue, funds collected after all the costs and expenses are taken out, to the department they contract with. The catch is that the state statute is vague, not identifying a time limit when that officer has to be hired.
“While there is not a written contract in place, the Indian Trail ABC board has received enforcement coverage from an officer with the Monroe Police Department, who has been designated for ABC enforcement by the sheriff,” ABC Commission Public Information Officer Agnes Stevens said. Stevens added the board also had general oversight in place by the Alcohol Law Enforcement Division of the North Carolina board of Crime Control and Public Safety. Even if the board had no dedicated officer, they would still be in compliance, Stevens said, as board members told her they were working towards a contract with the sheriff’s office.
Officer of record?
Stevens said the Commission was told by Charles Fowler, General Manager of the Indian Trail ABC Board, that Monroe officer David McCallister had been providing ABC enforcement since the store opened.
That was news to Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan, who said that while McCallister had responded to alcohol related incidents in Indian Trail, it wouldn’t be correct to say he was the board’s officer of record.
“I have not been approached about a contract nor have I been approached by anyone in reference to our ABC officer working Indian Trail,” Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan said. “At my request four years ago, Sheriff Cathey gave the (Monroe) ABC officer countywide jurisdiction to work the few establishments in Union County who sold (or) consumed alcohol,” Duncan said, citing golf courses and bars. “The agreement was that our ABC officer would work with the state and one of the Union County deputies whenever he left Monroe’s jurisdiction. We were and are willing to assist Indian Trail if we can and in two instances, have responded by request.”
If Indian Trail’s board is portraying McCallister as their officer, Duncan said, then some money needs to come the city’s way.
“If Indian Trail insists that Monroe’s ABC officer is their officer of record, the Monroe, by state statute, is entitled to 5 percent of their (net) profits,” Duncan said.
McCallister was asked for help just on those two occasions when there was an alcohol related incident in town, Indian Trail ABC board chair Ken Porter said.
“We needed someone on an ad hoc basis,” Porter said. “We caught someone trying to buy liquor underage and reported it. There was also an alcohol related traffic accident earlier this year.”
In each case, without a dedicated officer in place, the board needed assistance and reached out to McCallister, Porter said.
Stevens said that while the state statute says each board “shall” contract with an officer, they give leeway to programs just starting out, as long as paperwork is filed for any incident.
Still, Porter said the board recognizes they need an officer full time and had been discussing options with the sheriff’s office. Right now, 5 percent of their net profit for the year projects to $36,000. Porter said he had been talking about using that money to help bring a detective to work Indian Trail cases.
“If the town signs off on it, we would help bring a detective to Indian Trail for half the cost,” Porter said. He talked about using the $36,000 to pay for part of the salary a detective would make, then asking the town to contribute the other half. Indian Trail would then have a dedicated detective working town cases, while also on hand to work ABC related incidents.
“We’ll probably get around 20 hours (a week) of coverage,” Porter said.
Porter also questioned why, if the mayor had concerns, didn’t he call the chair of the board before leveling accusations.
“He’s called everyone but me and Santa Claus,” Porter said. “Why hasn’t he given me a phone call? I’ve invited him to our meetings, but he never shows up.”
Quinn said he had already spoken with an ABC board member, during the Indian Trail council meeting June 28, when the council appointed Jan Brown to the planning board. During that meeting, Brown acknowledged the ABC board was out of compliance, having not yet contracted with a deputy.
“I talked to Mr. Brown, who to his credit, admitted the board was out of compliance,” Quinn said. “Why would I call Mr. Porter?”
Quinn said his concern, in addition to monitoring what he calls the “increased crime that comes with alcohol”, is the fact he feels the board hasn’t been honest with the public.
“This is a multi-million dollar operation,” Quinn said. “If they’re not honest with this, how can we trust them with our money?”
Porter said the board was doing its best to get up to speed, admitting they made some mistakes in their first year, but said he took handling taxpayer money seriously.
“We’re trying to do this in a prudent fashion,” Porter said. “Yes, we could have rushed through and signed a contract earlier this year, but it might not have been the best contract for the board or the town. Now we could possibly help the town get a detective. I think it was wise to wait.”