News: Quick Takes

N.C. ABC administrator out, reasons unclear

Bob Hamilton is out as administrator of the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control commission.

The reasons for his leaving are unclear, though news of his departure came late last week.

Agnes Stevens, deputy director, is acting interim administrator, the ABC said in an email.

The ABC says Hamilton’s job was “exempt designated — policymaking (G.S. Chapter 126 (5)(d)),” which basically is exemption from protection of the State Personnel Act. In other words, he was a political appointee who carries out the policy positions of the governor. The person in this job can be fired for any reason.

Here’s what the statute says in G.S. 126-5(b)(3) about policymaking exemptions:

“‘Exempt policymaking position’ means a position delegated with the authority to impose the final decision as to a settled course of action to be followed within a department, agency, or division, so that a loyalty to the Governor or other elected department head in their respective offices is reasonably necessary to implement the policies of their offices. The term shall not include personnel professionals.”

Stevens began with the ABC as public relations director in October 2009 and became deputy director in November 2017, according to LinkedIn. She has a bachelor of arts in English from Davidson College.

The N.C. ABC falls under the Department of Public Safety.

“[O]ur overall objective to provide uniform control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages in the state,” its website says.

The N.C. ABC sets statewide policy and rules, but most of the decision-making is left to 167 county-based ABC boards, which have great autonomy and, as the argument goes in some circles, immense political sway.

Hamilton began work with the ABC as a contractor in April 2010 and later as deputy administrator in September 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He became administrator in November 2014 and, under his tenure, saw unprecedented growth in the home-grown segment of the industry, particularly for craft distilleries.

North Carolina got its first distillery in 2005, but, in 2015, Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 909 — the “One-Bottle Law,” which allowed distillers to sell one bottle per customer per year. In June of last year, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 155, alternately known as the “brunch bill.” The bill, which allows restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. Sunday, also allows craft distillers to sell five bottles to customers each year and allows the distillers to offer tastings at festivals and other events. The tastings are contingent on local approval, as are the Sunday brunch sales.

North Carolina now has nearly 60 distilleries with products in state ABC stores. North Carolina, though, still lags behind its neighbors in terms of promoting its craft distilleries and taking positive steps toward featuring their products.

Hamilton was recently deposed in a lawsuit filed May 15 by Craft Freedom LLC, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery LLC, and NoDa Brewing Co. The lawsuit takes aim at the state-imposed distribution cap on craft breweries, along with franchise laws. The lawsuit states the rules are inflicting injury and threaten to impose additional damage to the brewers, who can produce no more than 25,000 barrels of beer each year without contracting with a distributor.