Calling Baltimore's Liquor Board a relic of patronage politics, Del. James W. Campbell urged his colleagues yesterday to scrap the system and staff the agency with civil service workers.
The Baltimore Democrat is sponsoring legislation to prevent state senators from appointing the board's inspectors -- claiming that inspectors can be more beholden to politicians than to the public.
Instead, the board should be staffed by civil service employees or law enforcement officers, he said.
"What we're trying to do is restore confidence in the operation of the Liquor Board," Mr. Campbell testified at a House Appropriations Committee hearing, the first step in a long process before the bill can become law. Mr. Campbell said the prospects aren't good. "We have a better chance in the House than in the Senate."
Why? Senators from the city appoint the three Liquor Board members and 33 full- and part-time inspectors. They are plum jobs that few politicians would forfeit without a fight, senators have acknowledged.
The president of the city's Senate delegation seemed to agree with Mr. Campbell's prediction.
"If the bill passes the House," Sen. John A. Pica Jr. said, "we will take it under advisement."
The dispute dates to May, when Mr. Pica formed a task force to study the Liquor Board -- a move that followed a Sun article detailing conflicts of interest at the agency. The article described how inspectors solicited campaign donations for their political patrons, and supervised bars that had contributed to the campaigns.
The board has also been under investigation by a grand jury and the state attorney general's office after claims that inspectors tooks bribes from owners of bars on The Block. The grand jury has not returned the records it subpoenaed from the Liquor Board, and state police investigators interviewed board members in December. The bribery claims were contained in a search warrant affidavit used during the January 1994 state police investigation and raid on The Block.
In December, the task force recommended that state law be changed to forbid inspectors from soliciting or receiving political donations. It also said the Liquor Board should adopt Maryland's ethics law, and that there should be hiring and training standards for all employees.
The task force did not recommend scrapping the patronage system.