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Thursday, April 25, 2013

NH Liquor Commission says no Executive Council oversight saves time, money

CONCORD – An executive with the State Liquor Commission said the bitter lawsuit over a warehouse contract is not good cause to make the agency seek Executive Council approval of such contracts in the future.

Director of Administration Craig Bulkley said the 2010 law exempting the agency from needing council permission has saved liquor operations time and millions in savings. ...

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CONCORD – An executive with the State Liquor Commission said the bitter lawsuit over a warehouse contract is not good cause to make the agency seek Executive Council approval of such contracts in the future.

Director of Administration Craig Bulkley said the 2010 law exempting the agency from needing council permission has saved liquor operations time and millions in savings.

“There is no reason to make a change to the existing law,” Bulkley said.

But state Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, said the multiple lawsuits over the $30 million, 20-year warehouse contract reveal a need for elected officials to have oversight.

“I think it is protection for our agencies; it ensures the state is doing what it should do,” Ober said. “It makes the right statement.”

The House of Representatives last month approved the bill, which makes the commission get council approval in the future for all contracts dealing with operations of stores, warehousing and marketing.

Charging the bidding was “tainted by unlawful favoritism from the state,” said Law Warehouse, of Nashua, in a lawsuit last month to nullify the $20-year, $200 million liquor warehouse contract awarded to worldwide delivery giant Deutsche Post Exel.

The suit seeks to nullify the November contract and order a rebidding of the entire project.

The 42-page lawsuit claims the liquor panel was determined to end the state’s long-standing relationship with Law and conspired to give Exel an unfair advantage throughout the bid process. A third company that lost out on the warehouse work has lodged its own appeal.

“I can’t believe the liquor commission would want this kind of bad publicity in the future, and more oversight would avoid that,” Ober said.

Bulkley said this contract and a related one to be awarded in coming months for transporting liquor to warehouses for storage are the only ones that have touched off these disputes.

“There’s a lot of money at stake here, and I think the incumbent certainly wants to try to hold on to that,” Bulkley said.

Letting the agency approve its own contracts has allowed it to quickly make renovations to several liquor stores that have significantly boosted revenues there.

For example, in the year after upgrade to the state store at Coliseum Avenue in Nashua $2.1 million more in sales were brought in, Bulkley said.

“You know there are times when you have to move fast to take advantage of an opportunity; this allows us to do that,” he said.

State Sen. David Watters, D-Durham, said the bill should be amended to make it clear that only the council and not the attorney general could negate a contract.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).