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REGIONALREPORT Western

ABC boards take their shots

Tar Heels are learning their ABCs don’t always follow the letter of the law. Curtis Canty resigned as CEO of Asheville Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in September after state Alcohol Law Enforcement investigators reported he had, among other things, solicited free booze for his sons’ weddings, used the board’s credit card for personal reasons and gotten free goodies from liquor distributors, including meals and field passes for a Carolina Panthers game. State law prohibits members and employees of local ABC boards — which operate government-run liquor stores — from taking gifts from vendors.

Canty won’t be prosecuted, but his is the latest in a series of messes for ABC boards. In January 2010, the entire New Hanover County board resigned amid controversy over the $350,000 combined annual salaries paid to Administrator Billy Williams and his son, Assistant Administrator Bradley Williams. (In August, a jury convicted the elder Williams of having a contractor build him a garage that was billed as work on a liquor store; he got two years’ probation and a $21,930 fine.) That same January, Mecklenburg County ABC Board Chairman Parks Helms resigned after ALE found that Diageo North America Inc., a Connecticut-based liquor distributor, picked up the $12,700 tab for a “holiday dinner” for him and some Mecklenburg ABC employees at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Charlotte. (Canty also dined there on Diageo.)

North Carolina is among 18 states with a government monopoly on liquor sales but the only one with boards that are appointed by local authorities and tasked with running retail operations. The system has been around since the end of Prohibition, and despite the recent scandals, it probably won’t change.

“There has been talk of having the state get out of the business of selling liquor,” Michael Crowell, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill School of Government, wrote on his local-government blog. “That seems unlikely to happen soon in light of the current economic situation and the $250 million in revenue the ABC systems pay to state and local government each year.” Charles Worley, chairman of Asheville ABC, agrees. “It is a huge source of income to cities and counties. We do a lot of other things private companies would not do,” such as funding education and substance-abuse programs required by the state.

Canty was paid $120,000 before bonuses. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law making it illegal to pay an ABC general manager more than the county clerk of court. So Canty’s replacement can’t make more than $102,000. Hopefully, it’s still enough to go Dutch at Del Frisco’s.

Briefs

FOREST CITY — Zinc-product maker Horsehead, based in Pennsylvania, will open a production plant near here in 2013. The factory will use waste created by steel mills to make high-grade zinc and other metals. It will employ 250 with an average salary of $41,000. Rutherford County’s average is $28,400 a year.

WEAVERVILLEThermo Fisher Scientific, which makes temperature controls for scientific equipment, will increase the workforce at its plant here from 580 to 690 by April. The Waltham, Mass.-based company also employs 200 at a customer-service center in Asheville.

FLETCHER — About 180,531 attended the Mountain State Fair, a 2.6% decrease from 2010. A spokesman for the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, where the fair is held, blamed poor weather.

FLETCHER — Discount airline Allegiant Air will debut twice-weekly flights between Asheville Regional Airport and Orlando, Fla., this month. The company is a subsidiary of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel. Service will start two months before AirTran Airways cancels its three weekly flights between the cities.

CHEROKEE — Michell Hicks was elected to a third consecutive term as principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Hicks defeated Patrick Lambert, executive director of the Cherokee Tribal Gaming Commission, 2,124 votes to 1,989, after finishing behind him in the primary.