Wednesday, September 05, 2012
The last time the Clarion Content broke a story with this much heat, D.R. Horton was fixing to drill under Durham County homeowner's houses who had (allegedly) unwittingly signed off on deeds giving the company and its energy partners fracking rights.
The Clarion Content has reports from multiple sources within Durham ABC that the state is investigating The Durham County ABC. The Clarion Content's sources say the state's concerns range from improper use of Frontier-Visa gift cards as employee incentives, to irregularities in the selection process of current General Manager, Emily Page. Ms. Page served as the Chairwoman of the Durham County ABC Board before becoming Durham ABC's General Manager, a position that carries with it a salary in excess of $95,000 and a company car.
Employees within the Durham ABC report that minutes of board meetings have been substantially altered after the fact and original tape recordings of meetings have been destroyed. In concert with local Durham attorney, Carey Ewing, the Clarion Content inquiry has turned up strange inconsistencies. Minutes that were months old and supposed to be available to the public were not on the Durham County ABC Board's website, nor in the Clerk of the County Commissioner's office. Suddenly after questions about availability by Attorney Ewing, they were back on the website, and available to the public, if a written request was filed and a photocopying fee paid.
The Clarion Content has also heard from Durham County ABC store managers that employees have been allowed to work and sell alcohol without completing the mandatory Responsible Alcohol Selling Program part of their training, this despite the protests of Chief of ABC Law Enforcement, Derrick McMillan.
Employees also report that numerous "unofficial" directives in contradiction of Durham ABC policies have come from the General Manager's office; including new restrictions on leave and employee vacation, directives about the hiring of certain specific contractors, changes in the conduct of criminal background checks for new hires, and how ABC Board foundation money is allocated.
Shortly after Ms. Page took over as General Manager, she removed the ABC's recording secretary from General Manager's meetings and discontinued the process of taking minutes of those meetings.
Employees also allege Ms. Page has made use of office resources for her personal coaching and consulting business, and claimed to be working from home on days where she has been spotted biking the Tobacco Trail.
There have also been questions raised about Durham County ABC Board member Erroll Reese's use of County resources for personal causes.
We have spoken to as many as six Durham County ABC employees and Attorney Ewing has spoken to a handful more. All are concerned. All feel the new leadership has created a hostile, uncomfortable work environment. Some fear whistleblower retaliation for having hired a lawyer or spoken to the press, but they uniformly state that did not know what else they could do.
Just before publishing this article the Clarion Content was able to speak with Ms. Kimberly Shaw, Durham County ABC Board Chairwoman. While Ms. Shaw did not have direct knowledge and could not comment on all the allegations herein, she did clarify a few points. Ms. Shaw said that the gift cards in question were not received nor treated as gifts by Durham County ABC. Rather they were considered discount cards which are acceptable under state guidelines. Ms. Shaw had not heard about any irregularities concerning board meeting minutes.
She also noted concerning scheduling and leave policy that the General Manager, Ms. Page, has a certain amount of leeway. She said that the goal is maximum "operational efficiency" and that it was Shaw's understanding that the changes would save the ABC from having to hire additional employees at a greater fiscal cost. She noted, it is always the Board's goal to try to save funds where possible, so that as much money as can be is directed back to the City and County of Durham.
Ms. Shaw also mentioned that sometimes fresh eyes and new policies from leadership are met with disdain and gripes by employees, but are ultimately for the greater good of the organization.
Regarding the use of Durham ABC resources for Ms. Page's personal coaching and consulting business, Ms. Shaw said that the Board takes those kind of allegations very seriously, this was the first she had heard of it and they would look into it. The same goes for violation of the Board policies regarding the Responsible Alcohol Selling Program, this was the first she had heard of it, they take these issues very seriously and she would investigate.
Bottom line, Durham, stay tuned.
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