Retire the hacks

August 04, 2005

THE INTERNECINE disputes at the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners have reduced the agency to a bunch of political do-nothings. Citizen complaints of noisy, unruly bars and taverns have been ignored. Inactive liquor licenses have been left to molder with some holders continuing to pay yearly fees in violation of the law. And now the state prosecutor has launched an investigation - at the request of two former commissioners who were accused of wrongdoing by the board's chief inspector. Reporting by The Sun's Lynn Anderson has exposed this poor excuse for a public agency. Nathan C. Irby Jr., the board's executive secretary, should be ashamed of the sorry mess created under his watch.

A former state senator, Mr. Irby was hired at the board in 1997 following another scandal and efforts to reform the board's political patronage system. Mr. Irby pledged improved access to the board and a "radical departure" from its past dealings. A new chairman and board commissioners were installed at the time, and inspectors became civil servants. But the culture of the agency appears to have changed little. The latest internal dispute stems from the accusations of chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr. that Mr. Irby, his assistant and two commissioners gave preferential treatment to some liquor establishments. This looks too much like a bad case of history repeating itself.

Professionalizing the staff in 1997 helped depoliticize the agency, but there remains at least one inspector who is related to a state senator. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has reappointed the board chairman and two new commissioners, and reform is the operative word once again. But retirement may be more appropriate. The board should suggest as much to Mr. Irby and other employees and begin cleaning house to ensure its staff is professional and nonpartisan. Policing 1,400 city liquor establishments shouldn't be left to political hacks.

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