Nod, nod, wink, wink: Say no more, eh? Liquor board: Bribery and favoritism charges should prompt more thorough scrutiny of licenses.

May 10, 1998

WHATEVER THE outcome of the judicial process, the indictment of a former state delegate and five others in a sweeping bribery and favoritism probe should compel the city liquor board to reform. It is time to clean house and stop the charade.

Item: Under current law, any individual or corporation is limited to a single liquor license. So why have video amusement and vending machine companies been buying up failed taverns, along with their licenses, at auctions? The companies then reopen those establishments with licenses that are effectively rented out to create the impression of separate ownership.

Item: Though the liquor board maintains separate categories for 363 package-goods licenses and 783 taverns (plus 450 restaurants), many city taverns are thinly veiled package-goods stores. Why is this pretense allowed to continue?

The entire liquor licensing system is badly in need of reform. The board and its inspectors should operate on the basis of simple and unambiguous regulations, not confusing rules that are an invitation to nod-and-wink practices. There is no better time for reform than now when questions are being raised about the integrity of the regulatory agency.

Partial steps have been taken to remove the liquor board from the most flagrant interference of state senators and delegates. Those changes are not enough.

Baltimore's liquor outlets have enjoyed a cozy and mutually beneficial relationship with Democratic politicians who have controlled the liquor board. In return for inspectors' closing their eyes to infractions, watering holes have eagerly contributed to campaign chests.

The only way the liquor board can attain the independence and influence it needs is by severing its remaining chains to politicians seeking favors.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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