New Responsibility 

Meet the CPA who's now in charge of the ABC.

Danielsen holds a bachelor's degree in electrical communications from Purdue University and is a certified public accountant. After a stint as a high-level communications officer in the Vietnam War, Danielsen pursued "entrepreneurial opportunities," he says. These included an associate partnership with Alexander Grant & Co. and vice presidencies with AB Dick Products and CTA Communications.

Danielsen says he did not seek his current position with ABC. And he feels fortunate, he says, in that he'll lead a government agency that has turned a profit in this time of budgetary crisis. Last year, ABC stores grossed more than $382 million and produced profits of more than $41.5 million. About $16.8 million of those profits were distributed directly to localities for education, police, fire, rescue and public works.

Aside from building on that foundation, he has "a marvelous staff," he says. "The staff is so efficient they could easily run this agency without me."

Danielsen views the agency as a booming business. "ABC has shown growth and will continue to do so. We will continue to add 10 stores a year," he says. "Licenses and revenue will continue to grow."

Of course, the ABC isn't like other businesses in that there is no competition. A growing number of critics are pushing for the agency's privatization, such as the Richmond Privatization League. But Danielsen doesn't seem an ally.

"The Strategic Plan of ABC does not include a reduction of our involvement in the distribution or sale of distilled spirits … through privatization or any other means," he says. Nor does he think such a proposal probable. "There are always rumors about privatization and invariably some bills introduced in the General Assembly. None has gone anywhere," he says. "There were some initiatives in the Wilder and Allen administrations to study the situation. Neither resulted in significant change."

As for recent criticism in Richmond that ABC has been excessive in the area of law enforcement, Danielsen has no comment. But he promises to "be non-overbearing" regarding law enforcement. "I'm not soft on crime," he says. "But I don't look at law enforcement as imposing. My goal is to help people use alcohol responsibly and help underage people not to drink."

He sees ABC's biggest challenge as the "social-values" problem, he says — "binge, underage and irresponsible drinking." But Danielsen doesn't call this prudery: "Young people will be young people. I understand that. Sometimes they need help with responsible drinking."

Some critics of ABC say that the agency tries to cover too much territory. But Danielsen disagrees. He believes in the mandate and breadth of the ABC's mission and has no problem with the guidelines. "I had no idea what ABC did until I got here. I suspect the critics might not know who we are. We regularly give out education brochures to let the public know what we do."

According to ABC brochures, two new market-development plans have been instituted to aid in its mission of "providing convenient retail outlets and a reliable source of revenue to the commonwealth."

ABC will strive to provide service within 15 miles of towns with populations greater than 1,000 and within 12 miles of towns with a population greater than 1,500.

Danielsen expects to add 40 new stores this year: "Oh, that will be done. Even without me, the ABC employees could easily do it."

Critics have also charged ABC with failing to accept anonymous complaints from citizens about businesses that violate ABC rules. "That is not true," Danielsen says. "We have a hotline" — (800) 552-3200 — "and a Web site" — www.abc.state.va.us — "where citizens can lodge complaints without using their name. Every credible complaint is followed up."

He adds that ABC cannot proceed with investigations if complaints are overly broad. "We need specifics," he says. "That is what we need — not the identity of the complainer."

So is Danielsen an Eliot Ness, an enforcer who won't take a drink? "I am a responsible consumer of alcohol," he says, laughing. "I like a variety of liquors. One of life's small pleasures for me is to sit in an easy chair with a pipe and a drink." S


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