Liquor License Board Commissioner Elizabeth Smith has promised that the agency will improve.
“I can assure you that the agency is going to change the way they operate,” Smith told the Fell’s Point Community Organization last week.
Fresh on the heels of a scathing audit of the Liquor Licensing Board by the Office of Legislative Audits, Smith attended the FPCO meeting last week to introduce herself and answer some tough questions.
FPCO President Joanne Masopust said that prior to the audit’s release, she had invited Smith to attend the meeting simply because most of the community’s interaction had been with Liquor Board Chair Stephan Fogleman, and she wanted to meet other commissioners.
Then, the audit came out.
“I probably could have sold tickets for tonight,” joked Masopust as she introduced Smith.
Among other topics, Smith drew a stark dividing line between the three appointed commissioners—herself, Fogleman and Harvey Jones—and the agency that runs day-to-day operations, headed by Executive Secretary Samuel Daniels Jr.
The three commissioners, appointed by the governor for two-year terms, make decisions on issuing liquor licenses, renewing licenses, transferring licenses and issuing penalties, such as fines, suspensions, or revocations of licenses. They also set policy for the agency.
The administrative arm of the agency, headed by Daniels, performs inspections of establishments, administrative tasks, and day-to-day operations.
The Liquor Board is a state agency; it sustains itself though revenue earned from licensing transactions. That money goes to the city, which uses it to fund the administrative arm of the agency, headed by Daniels.
“I don’t think we realized how bad it was until about five months ago, when we got the internal report [of the audit],” said Smith. “You have no idea how angry I get when I see that.”
Masopust called the three commissioners “the most community-oriented and responsive commissioners we’ve had.”
Resident Cliff Ransom was more skeptical.
“I think the Liquor Board has demonstrated that it is an inherently bankrupt institution, from a philosophical point of view,” he said.
Ransom noted that he has had no success in getting the Liquor Board to enforce a Memorandum of Understanding between his community and a bar.
Smith responded that the three commissioners do not receive notification of 311 calls that have been left unfulfilled.
“There is a disconnect,” she said. “It’s a problem.”
She told Ransom that she would look into the situation and give him an answer within 24 hours.
Smith noted another situation in which, after hearing community complaints, she personally witnessed a local bar serving drinks in to-go cups for patrons to take with them. After holding the bar accountable, she said, “You would be surprised at the backlash I got.”
“I’m sure it came from the inspectors and your fellow commissioners,” Ransom said.
“No, not the commissioners,” Smith responded.
Ransom later questioned the usefulness of a 311 system “that doesn’t bloody well work.”
“The system works,” replied Smith. “It’s the people. There will be major shakeups in the Liquor Board—the agency.”
by Erik Zygmont