Make liquor inspectors civil servants Job protection: Small step toward making city agency independent of state senators.

February 07, 1997

OLD HABITS die hard. Just look at the way Baltimore's state senators are having to be weaned from their power over the city's liquor-control agency. The liquor board needs radical reform that would end its ties to the city's Senate delegation. The senators not only appoint board members but typically tell the board who to hire, down to the lowliest inspector.

Liquor inspectors, knowing who they owe their jobs to, thank the appropriate senators through small favors like selling fund-raiser tickets to bar owners. The pecking order goes back nearly to the end of Prohibition.

Past efforts to change liquor board laws have been rebuffed by senators who don't want to give up one of their last real patronage powers. But the embarrassment of corruption allegations involving liquor inspectors linked to certain senators may have finally made the climate right for change, albeit small.

Senators Ralph Hughes and Perry Sfikas are sponsoring a bill to place liquor inspectors under civil service. Professional standards for hiring and dismissal would be set. Inspectors wouldn't get their jobs through state senators.

Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman have said they support the legislation. But Sen. George W. Della has yet to see the light. He should see this bill as the least the Senate can do.

A grandfather clause would let inspectors already on staff keep their jobs. As they retire, though, they would be replaced by a more professional staff hired under civil service guidelines. The legislation leaves intact the senators' ability to appoint the board members, which means the senators will keep their influence over the executive secretary hired by the board to run the agency.

That arrangement is also a problem. Aaron Stansbury was executive secretary for 29 years, and tried to run a professional operation. When he retired last year, Julian A. Morgan, a crony of then-Senate delegation leader John A. Pica Jr., was chosen to replace him. But Mr. Morgan quit after only a few months, leaving a vacancy that the senators now appear determined to have filled by another buddy, retired Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr. Clearly the senators need to get their hands out of the liquor business. The first step is making liquor inspectors civil servants.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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