Senator attracted by liquor board job Della talks of interest in Baltimore position vacated by Stansbury

July 27, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

State Sen. George W. Della Jr., who has exerted his influence on the city liquor board by appointing a board member and choosing several inspectors, apparently now wants the $59,000-a-year job running the 46-member staff.

The position of executive secretary became vacant yesterday when Aaron L. Stansbury retired after 29 years with the liquor board. The board is one of Maryland's last bastions of political patronage, where city senators decide who gets to inspect bars and pick the board members who control city liquor licenses.

Stansbury and Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Democrat who heads the city Senate delegation, said Della has expressed interest in the job. Della, a Baltimore Democrat, did not return telephone calls this week, including messages left with his secretary explaining the nature of the calls.

"He invited me to lunch," and they met July 19, Stansbury said. "He indicated he had some interest but wasn't sure what the job entailed."

Pica predicted that Della "will approach the board himself and ask to be considered."

Della's interest in the job -- and rumors that other politically connected people might want it -- prompted Stansbury to write to Baltimore's state senators this month, asking them to replace him with a professional administrator, not a political appointee.

"The office of executive secretary is a demanding position requiring sound managerial and administrative skills and one that should be kept free from political intervention," wrote Stansbury, who moved from a deputy post to the top job in 1989 when his predecessor died.

Although state law requires that the three-member liquor board appoint Stansbury's successor, Stansbury and others say they believe the senators will influence the decision, because they appoint the board.

The chairman of the board, George G. Brown, also wants to hire a professional but acknowledges the role politics can play.

"There are two areas of concern -- political and nonpolitical -- and when they clash you'll have thunder and lightning," said Brown, who was appointed to the board by Sen. Clarence W. Blount a Baltimore Democrat.

Brown has asked the city's personnel department to search for a professional who has "administrative skills, can answer technical correspondence, manage a staff of 46. You're looking for somebody who's not an inspector, someone with a college degree."

Pica also insisted the job should be "nonpolitical" and expressed surprise that Stansbury would write to the senators about it. Applicants "wouldn't call me because I have no control over the situation. I'm just an innocent bystander," said Pica.

But couldn't Della have an edge over competitors, because he appointed one of the three board members making the hire? "It seems plausible," Pica acknowledged.

"I guess by virtue of the fact that he's a politician, maybe it becomes political, but I think people read too much into this," he said.

But if Della asked him for the job, Pica said, "I'd take a look at George's record in the Senate regarding liquor license legislation. I think you'll find he is one of the most proactive senators and he has probably asked for legislation that has helped the community more than any other member of the legislature."

Two years ago, The Sun reported that a liquor board inspector, chosen by Della, sold fund-raiser tickets for Della's campaign to local bars and restaurants regulated by the liquor board.

At the time, Della said he saw nothing unethical about the practice, although Brown, the board chairman, said it was a firing offense.

It was unclear yesterday whether Della would have to resign from the Senate to take the job. John E. O'Donnell, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said that question would probably have to be considered by the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.

So far, the board has received only one formal application for the job, from Jane M. Schroeder, its deputy executive secretary.

"It is imperative that the actions of the administrative staff be consistent and evenhanded so as to protect you from claims that the Board is acting politically," she wrote the board in her application for the top job.

Critics of the liquor board's patronage system are also watching closely to see who becomes Stansbury's successor.

"We live in the neighborhoods and may not have money like the bar owners to support political campaigns, but we live here and own homes and pay taxes, and without us where is the city going?" said Mary Lou Kline, chairwoman of Citywide Liquor Coalition for Better Laws and Regulations, which helps communities monitor liquor law violations.

Sen. Perry Sfikas, another critic of the patronage system, said Stansbury was able to strike a balance between the interests of communities and bar owners.

"I think we need to have a continuation of that and not have folks strongly connected to either the liquor industry or to other special interests," said Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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