Michelle Wirzberger, director of legislative affairs for City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, has thrown her hat in the ring for the job of executive secretary to the Board of Liquor License Commissioners—the position form which Samuel Daniels Jr. will retire at the end of June, in the wake of a scathing audit.
Wirzberger, a former Community Law Center attorney, said her “passion is liquor [issues],” and Article 2b [of the state code] is “a complex set of laws.”
“When they are not applied correctly the laws can have a negative impact on the health and the vitality of the city,” she said.
Wirzberger attended a meeting of Fell’s Point Community Organization last week and asked for a letter of support. A former resident of both Fell’s Point and Charles Village, she said that she has re-established residency in the city, a requirement for the position.
According to Wirzberger, the three Liquor Board Commissioners get to appoint the next board secretary, but state senators get to weigh in as well, hence her request for an endorsement.
“I was told that the appointment will be made within the next 90 days, but it could happen at any time,” Wirzberger says.
Joanne Masopust, FPCO president, said the organization voted to support Wirzberger not only because she has a track record of community activism and fighting problem bars in East Baltimore, but because she is known all over the city.
Even more important, says Masopust, she is a Liquor Board outsider.
In light of the recent audit, Masopust said the commissioners need to appoint someone with no ties to the agency.
It has been reported that Harvey Jones, currently one of the three board commissioners, is also seeking the position. Jones did not reply to an email from the Guide for this story.
“If [the Liquor Board] picks someone from the inside—whether it’s true or not—it looks like business as usual,” said Masopust, “and the board doesn’t need business as usual right now.”
When asked how the commissioners will choose a replacement should Jones seek the appointment, chief commissioner Stephan Fogleman first declined to comment on personnel matters.
Then he replied: “Legally, I don’t know the answer to your question. We’ll look to past practices and possibly get legal advice if [Jones’ seeking the appointment] becomes a reality.”
Wirzberger said if she doesn’t get this job, she’ll still continue her work on Liquor Board issues.
“Over the years, I have maintained a role of unofficial advisor to community groups and activists, and I will continue to do so,” she said. “I won’t be going away.”
She added that another opportunity at the Liquor Board may present itself later in the year.
“There is only one appointment now, but that might change, Wirzberger said.
If it does, she would consider taking it.
Fogleman said the board is “looking forward to getting leadership in place to implement the audit’s recommendations.”
As to whether the postion—long regarded as a political patronage job—would continue to be so, Fogleman said, “I don’t wish to characterize one way or another.”
“The person who gets the job serves in good behavior, almost like a judge,” he added.
The position is arguably a lucrative one. The city paid Sam Daniels a salary of $92,000, according to Open Baltimore salary data for fiscal year 2012.
Masopust said another reason her organization voted to support Wirzberger is because “she’s not part of the broken system.”
“And as far as I know, politically–she doesn’t owe anyone anything,” Masopust added.
by Danielle Sweeney