Distilling politics from liquor board Howard County: Senators' compromise on changing council duties doesn't go far enough.

September 30, 1997

FOR TOO LONG, the Howard County Council has been switching gears roughly once a month to serve as the liquor board. This antiquated system harks back to the days when county commissioners trudged in from the farm to wear many hats as part-time lawmakers.

Now, state Sens. Martin J. Madden and Christopher J. McCabe, who have long resisted calls for a separate, appointed liquor board, appear ready to embrace change.

Unfortunately, the senators are not ready to prepare the liquor board for the 21st century. They're only willing to go as far, perhaps, as the early 20th century.

They do not support a quasi-independent board with the power to grant, suspend or revoke liquor licenses (as exists in most other metro counties), with members appointed by the county executive.

Rather, Mr. Madden prefers a measure to form an appointed panel whose decisions could be appealed to the County Council. This proposal would allow council members to hand off the grunt work, but weigh in on the occasional controversy they can make political hay out of.

Mr. Madden maintains that local elected officials should be held accountable for major liquor cases, such as last year's controversial bid by Virginia-based Total Beverage to build a liquor "superstore" in Ellicott City. Under pressure from small store owners, council members, serving as the liquor board, rejected the petition.

The council members and state legislators should take another, more serious look at an idea offered last year by Mary C. Lorsung, the only council member willing to sever ties to liquor board decisions. She suggested a plan in which the county executive would appoint members of the liquor board.

Other councilmen want the best of both worlds: Free themselves of tedious liquor board duties while maintaining ultimate control, either by appointing members to the panel or by endowing themselves with authority to reverse decisions.

Those on Howard's County Council mostly say they do not want the job of the liquor board. If they yield the duties but still retain ultimate control, it won't be true change -- just something masquerading as reform.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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