Fight over liquor board Council Democrats say rush on members a partisan move

GOP could lose majority

Republicans contend they're finishing the job they started

July 10, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The County Council's two Democrats are accusing the Republican majority of rushing to appoint members of the new county liquor board before the November election, when control of the council could switch back to the Democrats.

"It's a political maneuver," Council Democrat Mary C. Lorsung said yesterday. "None of those three Republicans will be back on the council next year."

The council's three Republicans voted at a work session this week to begin nominating candidates for the newly appointed alcoholic beverage hearing board, which was created by state legislation this spring, rather than leave the task for the new council after the November election.

The legislation does not obligate the current council to act on appointing a liquor board, and in fact, some top county employees had assumed the next council would handle the appointments. But Republicans said they didn't want to force the next council to finish a complex task that was begun by this one.

"We as a board started this process, and you've got a new council with at least three new members, coming in with a huge learning curve to climb," said Dennis R. Schrader, a GOP candidate for county executive.

Democrats Lorsung and C. Vernon Gray object, saying there is insufficient time to familiarize the council with the complexities of the new law, advertise for prospective candidates, conduct interviews and pass on names to the county executive, who then must interview and choose from the nominees -- all by the first week of September so the council will have time to act before the election.

No Democrat or Republican acknowledges his or her position has anything to do with politics, or with the possibility that political supporters might be rewarded with selection to the board.

The council is controlled by the GOP, but all three Republicans are leaving their seats this year, giving Democrats a chance to regain control in November. Gray and Lorsung are running for re-election in safe Democratic districts in Columbia.

"It's a sign of concern on [the Republicans'] part," said Gray, who was not at the Wednesday work session but had objected in writing to moving ahead with the appointments. "They recognize that the Republicans may not be in charge of the council next time around. They want to get their appointments in now."

The council now sits as the liquor board, meeting monthly to handle mostly noncontroversial business: license transfers and renewals, restaurant expansions and complaints about sales to minors. But some cases can be controversial, such as one last year in which a one-time strip club owner asked for a liquor license. That application was denied.

The appointed liquor board will handle all cases, saving the council some time. The County Council will retain veto power over the board's decisions, meaning controversial cases likely will still end up before the council on appeal. Members of the new board will be paid nominal fees by the county.

The board members will be selected by councilmanic district. Each council member is supposed to submit three names to Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker by Aug. 14. Ecker will choose one from each list, then return a slate of five appointees to the County Council by September for a final vote in October.

The liquor board members are eventually to serve five-year terms, but the first terms will be staggered: Republican Darrel E. Drown's appointment will serve one year, Gray's will serve two years, Schrader's will serve three years, Lorsung's will serve four years and Republican Charles C. Feaga's will serve five years.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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