‘I have a lot more questions than answers.’ Lawmakers grill state contractor over liquor shortages
Hearing follows problems uncovered by WBTV investigation
RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) – The company that holds the contract to store and distribute liquor in North Carolina faced tough questions during a hearing Wednesday held by the North Carolina House Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The hearing was announced late last week, days after a WBTV investigation exposed problems with the distribution of liquor in the state that got worse when a new contract was implemented over the summer.
LB&B Associates holds the contract to warehouse and distribute liquor in the state. That contract is managed by the N.C. ABC Commission, which is responsible for getting liquor to local ABC boards.
Earlier this month, WBTV found LB&B was missing liquor deliveries, not sending full trucks and had implemented a new electronic ordering software that wasn’t working properly.
The chairman of the state ABC Commission, Zander Guy, resigned days before our investigation. A copy of his resignation letter obtained by WBTV does not give a reason for his departure but said he was leaving with great sadness.
At Wednesday’s hearing, a representative for the ABC Commission acknowledged, ultimately, the buck stops with the agency for the distribution issues. But then pointed to a series of problems with LB&B, the vendor.
An attorney for LB&B, Ben Thompson, deflected blame during answers to questions from lawmakers.
“You can’t deny the growth of the product and product sales in North Carolina. And that says that the ABC commission, the local boards and, I think, LB&B have done a good job of serving the interests of the good people of North Carolina,” Thompson said.
He also pointed to a string of other issues as the cause of the liquor shortage in North Carolina, which has left shelves bare across the state: an increase in demand for liquor at retail stores, COVID impacts on the company’s workforce, product availability and supply shortages.
But Senator Todd Johnson (R-Union), who participated in the House committee hearing, pointed out that those problems seem to be impacting North Carolina disproportionately.
“I would think that these same issues that we just mentioned happen in South Carolina as well,” Johnson said. “Yet their shelves are full.”
The hearing was chaired by Representative Tim Moffitt (R-Henderson), who voiced his displeasure at the end of Wednesday’s meeting.
“I’m probably more dissatisfied, or unsatisfied at the conclusion of this two hours than I was hoping I would be. I have a lot more questions than I have answers. I see some conflicts in certain things that have been reported to the committee and I see this as an ongoing issue,” Moffitt said.
“The cause has yet to be really discovered and I don’t think this meeting has really allowed us to really dig in as deep as we would like to.”
A spokesman for the N.C. ABC Commission issued the following statement following the hearing:
“The ABC Commission representatives appreciated the opportunity to speak with the House Committee and address their questions. The ABC Commission will continue to monitor the warehouse and distribution contract to ensure the vendor exceeds the required performance metrics. The Commission is also committed to working directly with the local ABC Boards, the warehouse and distribution vendor, and suppliers to identify issues and implement solutions to provide relief for product availability concerns. This collaboration is occurring through focus groups and hands-on-training, and provides an opportunity for various stakeholders to provide feedback and address specific issues they are facing.”
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