Liquor board needs administrator Too political: City panel should hire director who can run a regulatory agency.

August 02, 1996

THANK YOU, state Sen. George W. Della for stopping short of applying for the job of executive secretary of the Baltimore City liquor board. Though Mr. Della contends his prior interest in the position was merely out of curiosity, it's clear that this political patronage plum was probably his for the asking. All he had to do was apply for the job that pays $59,000 a year. But he didn't.

Now the liquor board, which is appointed by Mr. Della and the other city senators, just might be allowed to look in another direction for a replacement for Aaron Stansbury, who retired last month. It needs to hire someone who can bring some credibility to the board and the city's liquor licensing and inspection system, which has gained a reputation among bar owners for bending the rules if the price is right.

It would be difficult for senators to hire someone who would act independently of them. But that's the only way to stop incidents such as the firing of a liquor inspector "suspected" of cooperating with an FBI investigation that allegedly involved state Sen. Larry Young and his "friend," strip-club owner Kenneth A. "Kenny Bird" Jackson. In May, the board fired LTC inspector Marion P. Turner at the behest of the same man who had her hired five years ago -- Senator Young.

The chairman of the liquor board, George G. Brown, has said he wants to hire a professional administrator to replace Mr. Stansbury. But he knows the political realities. It won't happen unless the senators want it to.

Mr. Della said he lost interest in the job after finding out how much work was involved in supervising the agency's 46-person staff. The individual hired must be able to do that much work and more. He or she needs to be given the directive to rid the agency of cronies who have been given jobs as liquor inspectors and replace them with enforcement professionals.

Baltimoreans are embarrassed by stories of bars and nightclubs getting liquor licenses and keeping them after making generous political campaign contributions. The city's senators ought to be embarrassed, too. They should make sure the next liquor board administrator has no connection to politics. That person must be prepared to clean house and base the liquor inspection system on the law, not the whim of a handful of meddling senators.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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