Liquor jobs should be civil service Baltimore patronage: House should follow Senate's lead and pass important reform.

March 28, 1997

CITY RESIDENTS are depending on House delegation chairman Frank D. Boston Jr. to accomplish what has in the past been unachievable -- successfully steer legislation that puts city liquor inspectors under the civil service system. The Senate, which in the past has always thwarted efforts to do that, has finally passed a liquor inspectors bill and sent it to the House. Under Delegate Boston's guidance, the measure should become law this session.

It wasn't easy to get the Senate to agree to the measure sponsored by Sens. Ralph Hughes and Perry Sfikas. That body has not wanted to give up any part of one of the few patronage powers city senators still have. For decades they have appointed the liquor commissioners and directed the hiring of inspectors -- usually cronies, relatives and friends who return the favor through errands like selling campaign fund-raiser tickets to bar owners.

This bill is no panacea for all that ails the liquor board. It applies only to the 18 full-time inspectors, not the 10 part-timers, and a grandfather clause means no current inspector would lose his job. But as inspectors retire they could be replaced by a more professional staff hired under civil service guidelines. The new inspectors wouldn't be under any senator's thumb, but accountable to the public.

Sen. George Della opposed the measure, saying that putting liquor inspectors under the civil service system would make it more difficult to get rid of bad apples. But using established civil service guidelines to hire inspectors should mean no bad apples on the staff. Delegates should see past Senator Della's faulty reasoning and give its approval to this measure. The House has passed similar legislation in past years only to see the Senate sit on it. This time the situation is reversed.

The inspectors legislation leaves intact the senators' ability to appoint liquor board members. That means city senators would keep their influence over whom the board hires as the agency's executive secretary. That arrangement needs to be changed as well. But first things first. City delegates should approve the liquor inspectors bill at their meeting today. Maybe by the time the legislature meets next year, the city delegation will be ready to eliminate the rest of the liquor patronage system.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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