Liquor board oversight of strip bars opposed Councilwoman notes indictments on bribery charges

May 12, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A city councilwoman trying to bolster Baltimore night life said yesterday that she opposes any plans to regulate adult entertainment through the city's Board of Liquor License Commissioners.

The Maryland General Assembly recently approved legislation to shift the oversight of strip bars on The Block from the city's Department of Housing and Community Development to the liquor board.

But Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings said she opposes the shift because of last week's indictments of a former state legislator and the chief liquor inspector on charges that they were involved in a 10-year bribery scheme to thwart state liquor laws.

"I am increasingly concerned that the public [does] not trust the city liquor board's ability to do its job," said Rawlings of the 5th District, who heads the council Judiciary Committee. "Allegations of selective enforcement and payoffs has created a dark cloud over the board."

Liquor board leaders have said that they are willing to take over adult-entertainment enforcement and have been cracking down on Block violations turned in by vice officers.

Liquor board Executive Secretary Nathan C. Irby Jr., disappointed by Rawlings' stance, said that the board supports city plans for it to assume oversight of the adult-entertainment establishments.

"The board believes it can address the adult-entertainment issue," Irby said.

But Rawlings' stance could derail attempts by city administrators to control adult-entertainment establishments such as those on The Block, a row of strip bars along the 400 block of E. Baltimore St.

As head of the Judiciary Committee, Rawlings has been responsible for overseeing proposed changes to city laws governing night life.

Last year, the city created a Night Life Task Force to make recommendations.

Four years ago, the city passed tougher laws to crack down on the bars. But a series of 1996 stories in The Sun showed that the laws weren't being enforced.

Housing and Community Development Director Daniel P. Henson III said he supported shifting responsibility from his department, saying jurisdiction over adult entertainment should be handled by the liquor board.

Irby said that the current board should not be criticized for past problems.

"This had nothing to do with the current board," Irby said. "This was an ongoing investigation and every one knew it was ongoing."

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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