Fixing the liquor board
The Baltimore liquor board has been a mess for years. The
When they appeared before the Executive Nominations Committee for their confirmation hearing on Feb. 29, the new appointees — Chairman Benjamin A. Neil and members Douglas H. Trotter and Elizabeth A. Hafey — made some important concessions to their critics by acknowledging their inexperience and admitting to mistakes. Most pertinently, Mr. Neil said several times that one of his first actions as chairman,
Their answers still left some legitimate concerns, though. Both Mr. Neil and Mr. Trotter passed blame for shortcomings in the board's procedures on their staff, and Mr. Trotter stated his view that the board has no responsibility for community complaints about people pouring out of troubled bars and littering or urinating on streets and alleys. Granted, what happens outside the bar is the purview of the police, but what happens inside the bar — for example, serving obviously drunk patrons in violation of the state liquor code — likely has a lot to do with it. (Ms. Hafey wisely said little during the hearing other than to point out that she had not yet been appointed to the board when the Stadium Lounge license was reinstated, nor when some of the other decisions community groups have complained about were made.)
The merits of these particular appointees, though, are less important than the broader question of why the governor and state Senate are involved in selecting the liquor board in the first place. For decades, these were coveted patronage jobs, with all the inefficiency and poor accountability that implies. The system fostered lax enforcement and cronyism. The legislature could adopt Senator Carter Conway's proposal to force Governor Hogan to make new appointments for confirmation in the next month, but what that really means is that Mr. Hogan would have to come up with new nominees favored by the city Senate delegation, and that just amounts to repeating what has failed in the past.
The real answer is to put the liquor board under mayoral control where it belongs — a position, incidentally, we also took when Martin O'Malley was governor (
On a practical level, the new commissioners seem as frustrated as anyone about the disconnect between the liquor board and City Hall. In
The truth is that no mayor is going to take real responsibility for the liquor board until he or she is responsible for picking its members. We urge Senator Carter Conway and her colleagues to look beyond the merits of these three appointees and solve the real problem by vesting control of the liquor board in the city where it belongs.