Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 16, 2005

Liquor board needs review and reform

Whatever the truth turns out to be among the welter of accusations and counter-accusations among members of Baltimore's Board of Liquor License Commissioners and other officials, this latest fiasco exposes in a harsh light some serious failures at the liquor board ("Complaint hits 4 on liquor board," April 9).

These failures may be the result of structural flaws as well as the dirty laundry of favoritism now being aired in public.

The liquor board's failures have translated into failures of enforcement and regulation in our communities.

In many communities, poorly regulated bars and clubs stymie revitalization efforts and undermine neighborhood viability. Something must be done so that for every wonderful step we take forward in Baltimore's revitalization we do not take two steps backward.

The liquor board has a structural flaw that confuses and obfuscates clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

City officials deflect criticisms of the board by telling citizens it is a state agency. The city thus absolves itself of a good share of responsibility for problems with liquor establishments. Yet the board is funded by city taxes and regulates businesses in the city.

And it is an open secret that while the liquor board chair and board members are appointed by the state Senate, they obtain their appointments with the informal approval of the mayor and other city officials.

The board itself may be the victim of a design that probably was meant to insulate it from undue city influence.

But that design aimed for an independence that is probably impossible in practice, and has made the board a free-floating entity that at times seems to answer to no one - or, more often, to whatever interest wields the most immediate clout.

Liquor board reform should begin with two steps.

First, the board should welcome a review of its internal workings by an appropriate external body. Is it serving the public, as is its statutory duty, or are its actions consistently infected with politics?

A comparison of enforcement and sanctions in Baltimore with those of other jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, would be a useful measuring stick.

Second, the process of making appointments to the liquor board must be changed to allow real input from the Baltimore communities the liquor board serves.

We need responsible citizens from community associations on the board, not just insider political appointees.

Gerald Majer

Baltimore

The writer is land use chairman of the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association.

No exception to right to confront witnesses

Gregory Kane's column "It's an exception, not an attack on the Bill of Rights" (April 9) suggests that the Sixth Amendment right of a defendant in a criminal case to confront the witness against him is subject to "exceptions."

Mr. Kane is wrong. The Sixth Amendment declares that in "all" criminal prosecutions, the accused must be "confronted by the witnesses against him." And the General Assembly of Maryland is without lawful authority to amend the U.S. Constitution.

The witness intimidation problem in Baltimore is deadly serious, and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy deserves credit for trying to solve it. However, carving out, via flawed legislation, an "exception" to the hearsay evidence rule won't do the job.

Defense attorneys are on solid constitutional grounds in opposing this measure. The due process right of a defendant in a criminal case to confront the witness against him (or her) is of ancient vintage. It is found in Magna Carta and in the Common Law.

The General Assembly would be better advised to create a viable, fully funded witness protection program for Maryland to address the present very grave situation.

William Hughes

Baltimore

The writer is a former chief of litigation for the city of Baltimore.

NAACP's summit picks wrong target

After reading about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Leadership 500 Summit, I can only conclude that this effort will, in the long term, prove fruitless ("NAACP summit aims to close gap in the movement," April 8).

I joined the NAACP as a corporate lifetime member in the late 1990s. And I now fall within the targeted age of black professionals whom the NAACP proclaims the summit is designed to get involved.

I had planned to attend the summit. However, after reviewing the cost involved, I do not believe it is cost-effective. The NAACP simply is not worth that much of my money.

I think the summit will succeed in attracting well-to-do, power-hungry and politically correct people, not potentially loyal leaders who will move forward the agenda of African-Americans and other socially oppressed people.

Think about it: The NAACP wants people to spend more than $1,000 (factoring in the cost of transportation and food) for a weekend with a group that has a failing grade with the people it is targeting.

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