Appeals chief to complain to council about hearing

July 13, 1994|By James M. Coram and Erik Nelson | James M. Coram and Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writers

The chairman of the Board of Appeals said yesterday that he will write County Council members to complain about a councilman's conduct during a liquor board hearing and what he sees as a lax attitude toward underage drinking.

George L. Layman, a candidate for County Council, said council members who sit as the liquor board are not serious about underage drinking. Council members disagree.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a west county Republican, says Mr. Layman used an impartial liquor board violation hearing for a political platform.

The dispute began Friday during a hearing involving beer sold to an underage police cadet. Mr. Layman, an Ellicott City Democrat who is executive director of the Montgomery County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and serves on the state Underage Drinking Coalition, asked to speak.

"I went, I appeared, I signed up to testify," he said. "I waited two hours. When I finally began to speak, I was interrupted by a council member who said, 'I'm not going to sit here and be preached to by a political candidate.' They adjourned the hearing and walked out."

Initially, the board said that he could not testify because he had not been called as a witness by either the liquor enforcement authorities or the liquor license holder. But after a private meeting with its attorney, the board decided to let him speak, but not about the case and not for the public record.

Mr. Feaga acknowledged lashing out at Mr. Layman during the session, which was not recorded because it was not to be included in the board's records. Yesterday, he said Mr. Layman was being a "bully" in trying to testify.

"That was the first time in 7 1/2 years where I felt someone was try ing to take advantage of someone" for political gain, he said.

Mr. Layman and Mr. Feaga have clashed before. Their roles were reversed the last time, with Mr. Layman chastising Mr. Feaga for testifying at a September Board of Appeals hearing on a special exception for a retreat center in Daisy.

Mr. Feaga testified that the center, which faced fierce neighborhood opposition, would be inappropriate on the county's agricultural preservation land. Mr. Feaga served on a panel that drafted rules for the preservation program.

Friday's liquor board case involved Foster's Store on Route 144 in western Ellicott City. The county attorney who presented the case against the store called a local member of MADD to testify on the importance of curbing underage drinking. The board allowed the MADD representative to testify.

"I objected to that, too," said Mr. Feaga, who said he supports MADD and has even donated equipment to the group, but felt the testimony was inappropriate at the hearing.

Mr. Layman said his complaint about Friday's hearing was not politically motivated.

"Some of the comments made by board members indicate they are not taking underage drinking seriously," he said, "They seem to be more concerned about entrapment than the fact that liquor stores are selling alcohol to minors."

Mr. Layman pointed out a case in which an underage cadet concealed his identity after being asked if he was a cadet.

"They seemed more concerned about that than the fact that the owner went ahead and sold him the alcohol without identification," Mr. Layman said. "I think that's a problem."

Mr. Layman praised board chairman Darrel Drown, his Republican opponent in the new Ellicott City-Elkridge council district.

"When he opened the meeting, [he] said that this board believed in zero tolerance when it came to underage drinking and buying," Mr. Layman said.

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