Liquor board is `too busy' to do its job

August 02, 2005|By G. Jefferson Price III

NATHAN C. IRBY JR., the executive secretary of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, must be the most arrogant muldoon in Maryland.

Mr. Irby, a former member of the Maryland Senate, earns $80,676 a year from the people of Maryland. Actually, he does not earn it. He is paid that amount of money. If he earned it, there would have to be some record of service to the people of this great state.

Hard as I look, I find none. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Mr. Irby says he is busy, too busy to see that he and his fellow muldoons on the liquor board respond in a timely and responsible fashion to the complaints of Baltimoreans who pay their salaries. These are the angry and desperate complaints of citizens who are greatly bothered by saloons whose owners and clientele make life miserable in their neighborhoods.

Their complaints, and the pathetic reaction of Mr. Irby, were comprehensively reported in this newspaper Saturday in an article by Lynn Anderson.

Ms. Anderson's article chronicles the complaints of citizens in East and South Baltimore against saloons for disturbing the peace and tranquillity of their neighborhoods and against the liquor board for not doing something about it.

The most egregious of these is a tavern on Washington Avenue, near Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the patrons stand around outside cursing, panhandling and urinating. The hapless inhabitants of the area have tried to get the liquor board to help them, but Mr. Irby couldn't seem to find the time to get them together with the board.

"We're just busy," Mr. Irby told Ms. Anderson.

Busy doing what? Could it be that Mr. Irby and all the other political hacks who work as inspectors and board members are busy making sure that the strip bars on The Block are all obeying the law? After all, the board's headquarters on South Street are within walking distance of The Block, where owners, employees and patrons are daily violators of the law.

No, we would have heard about that.

Absurdly, one of the reasons given for the board's apparent incapacitation is that its members and staff do not get along with each other, usually for political reasons.

Mark S. Fosler, chairman of the board, seems to think making the board and its staff more responsive is a difficult task. "I don't want to pretend it is going to be blue skies and sunshine," he told The Sun. "But I think we will be turning some corners for the good, and we will be more responsive." But there's nothing hard about the task for which he earns $18,500 a year, to preside over the weekly meetings of the board.

He can start by telling Mr. Irby to get "busy" with the board's business, which is to regulate the bars and protect the neighborhoods in which they exist, to respond to the public. If Mr. Irby can't do that, he ought to be fired. Mr. Fosler also could tell every inspector to read the board's rulebook, and to throw the book at chronic violators.

Probably, it would be a good idea to just get rid of the board, and to allocate its presumed duties to the Police Department and the Health Department. Give those agencies the money spent on the board and staff. They'll get the job done.

This won't happen. Not as long as the state senators who exercise influence over who is employed at and appointed to the boards in their jurisdictions have the breath to howl.

For the board is one of the last great repositories of old-fashioned political patronage. In that system, the meritocracy is rated by political service, not public service. So why would anyone be surprised that the board and its executive secretary don't seem to give a hoot about the public? It's all about politics.

G. Jefferson Price III was a foreign correspondent and an editor at The Sun.

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