NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The head of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Executive Director Keith Bell, has resigned.
Bell’s decision comes just as grocery stores throughout the state are prepping to sell wine.
State Senator Bill Ketron (R – Murfreesboro) told News 2 he is “shocked” at the news and concerned about the timing.
“I’m concerned that there’s not going to be enough trained staff members to handle the growing demand,” said Ketron.
When the so-called wine in grocery stores bill was passed in 2014, lawmakers made room in the budget for increased staffing at the ABC.
The department asked for money to hire 33 people needed to process the pile of new applications for licenses to sell wine.
But Ketron said only a fraction of those positions have been filled.
“As of two weeks ago, he had only hired one,” Ketron said.
Roughly 500 stores in Tennessee are applying to start selling wine on July 1.
Bell’s sudden resignation and the lack of enough staff could mean a backlog of applications, which means some stores may have to wait to sell wine.
“So I’ve got some concern that some retail places are going to fall through the cracks and everybody is going to be screaming come July 1,” said Ketron.
A bill that would allow stores to start ordering wine and pre-stocking shelves before July 1 has cleared the Tennessee Senate and is moving through the House.
Ketron said if that bill isn’t approved, it could be October before some grocery stores start selling wine.