“Let’s all go for a drink.” With those words, Chairman David Plyer concluded Thursday’s Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting before going into closed session, then officially adjourning.
Thursday’s Commissioner’s meeting lasted over three hours. The meeting was much longer than it needed to be. A good portion of the meetings was devoted to debating the merits of allowing mixed drinks throughout Forsyth County. As County Manager Dudley Watts was going through the board’s agenda, Commissioner Ted Kaplan introduced a resolution that was not on the Commissioners’ agenda on behalf of Westbend Winery and Brewery. According to Commissioner Kaplan, Westbend Winery and Brewery secured a liquor license and purchased liquor to serve at their upcoming Fourth of July event. But they later learned that they couldn’t legally sell mixed drinks after an ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) official paid them a visit.
According to Kaplan, Westbend Winery and Brewery has “a little complication in state law that says unincorporated areas; we have to approve their sale of liquor-by-the-drink.” This should be no surprise to Commissioner Kaplan or anyone else on the board. It’s unclear why Westbend Winery and Brewery believed they could legally sell mixed drinks in unincorporated Forsyth County when they had not been allowed to sell mixed drinks previously. According to their website, WW&B has been in business for decades. The current winery/brewery owners purchased Westbend in 2015.
Perhaps a distillery would have been a better investment than a winery in unincorporated Forsyth County. Old Nick Williams Distillery, a distillery located near Westbend Winery and Brewery, is able to operate a full bar (Busted Barrel Cocktail Baron) on its premises. But that’s due to the 2019 state law [N.C. Distillery and ABC Modernization Bill] that gives distilleries greater freedom to serve alcohol. ABC laws in North Carolina are overly complicated relics from the Prohibition area. I can understand how business owners from Texas would be frustrated.
But Ted Kaplan presenting the approval of mixed drinks (or liquor-by-the-drink) as an urgent matter that must be considered before July Fourth in order to aid a local business owner, that’s improper. And Commissioner Kaplan himself could have used more time to study the sale of mixed drinks. Kaplan did not have a strong grasp on all the relevant facts the Board needed to consider in order to vote on the issue. Early in the mixed drink debate, Kaplan said, “it is liquor-by-the-drink for the entire County… this would add unincorporated areas.” But the board had to rely on the County Attorney to clarify that approving mixed drinks on behalf of one business owner would make mixed drinks permissible throughout the county. Towns in Forsyth County that have resisted the sale of mixed drinks for decades would no longer have any say in the matter.
Personally, I don’t care one way or another about where mixed drinks are served in Forsyth County. But changing countywide regulations at the behest of one business owner, without a chance for public input–that’s not how the process is supposed to work.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, the mixed drinks resolution failed by one vote, with Democrat Tonya McDaniel voting with commissioners Don Martin, Gloria Whisenhunt, and Richard Linville, the most conservative members of a conservative board. But the Board will reconsider the matter next Thursday. In another extraordinary measure on behalf of one business, the Board agreed to meet remotely next Thursday for an unscheduled meeting solely to consider the sale of mixed drinks in Forsyth County. So the Commissioners may be able to save Westbend Winery and Brewery’s Fourth of July after all! Nothing says America like local officials working diligently for a single entrepreneur.
During the mixed drink debate, Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt stated that she was contacted prior to Thursday’s County Commissioners’ meeting by Senator Richard Burr’s office regarding Westbend Winery’s woes. We don’t know whether President Biden or Governor Cooper were consulted on this matter. But the Commissioners’ much ado about mixed drinks debate demonstrates whose concerns are acted upon in Forsyth County. A winery’s Fourth of July shindig shouldn’t make it to the top of the County’s agenda, especially in a county with entrenched poverty and some of the worst economic mobility numbers in the entire nation.
Speaking of privileged institutions setting the agenda in Forsyth County. The Board was briefed on Kaleideum’s progress or lack of progress in building a new downtown facility. You would think that donated land and over $30 million from Forsyth County (and a generous contribution from the City) would be enough to get the new downtown Kaleideum built–pandemic or no pandemic. But at the moment, Kaledium Downtown is just a vacant lot with a nice new sign from the City of Winston-Salem.
At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Don Martin mentioned that Kaleideum agreed to increase their funding of Kaleideum Downtown a modest amount at their most recent board meeting. Martian complained that he did not see those recently approved funds reflected in Thursday’s staff presentation on Kaleideum. Don Martin’s comments reveal why it’s improper and completely unacceptable for him to serve on both the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and Kaledium’s board. He’s routinely moving money from the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to a non-profit board that he serves on. Don Martin has moved millions from Forsyth County’s Board to Kaleideum’s board for years now, giving unprecedented funding (over $30 million) to a non-profit museum while ignoring new school construction for Bunson and Ashley and other needs in Forsyth County.
“Bobby Kimbrough has the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in his pocket.”
In the distinction without a difference department, the Forsyth County Commissioners approved WS/FC Schools school resource officer agreement with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department will take over the SRO contract that the WSPD had for years. Continuing the practice of staffing schools with officers will cost the County more than $3.5 million in the coming school year. These are funds that would be better spent on school resources, not officers.
Also, as Triad Abolition Project and FCPARC (Forsyth County Police Accountability and Reallocation Coalition) activists mentioned during the public comments period, Sheriff Kimbrough, who continues to villanize and insult Triad Abolition/FCPARC, is getting $60,000 for temporary workers and over $1 million from the Commissioners to upfit the Forsyth County Public Safety Center. As activists rightly pointed out during the public comments period, this million-dollar upfit project was not included in the Sheriff’s annual budget that was recently approved as it should have been.