Languishing liquor licenses

August 18, 2005

MARYLAND LAW is pretty clear on the fate of an inactive Baltimore liquor license. It dies unless the Board of Liquor License Commissioners grants a 180-day extension. At that, the shelf life of an inactive license can be no more than 360 days. But lax enforcement at the board has allowed at least 50 inactive licenses to remain on the books beyond a year.

There may be extenuating circumstances for such delays - a hurricane, a fire, an inheritance fight. But keeping inactive liquor licenses available undermines a long-standing effort to reduce the number of licenses in Baltimore - now fewer than 1,400 - as the city's population declines. And more worrisome is the opportunity this creates to shop a license for the best price. The liquor board should not delay in resolving the status of the 50 questionable inactive licenses.

As reported by The Sun's Lynn Anderson, the improper license extensions are part of an inquiry by the state prosecutor into questionable enforcement practices and personnel disputes. The matter was turned over to state investigators at the request of Mark S. Fosler, the new liquor board chairman who initiated an internal review of license extensions. The board is slowly reviewing the circumstances of those inactive licenses. Mr. Fosler wants to give license holders an opportunity to be heard. Fair enough. But no one should be permitted to hang onto an inactive license beyond the legal limit. It raises serious concerns about the fairness of the process.

The board's poor track record in responding to community complaints about noisy, troublesome bars has been an embarrassment that calls into question the integrity of the staff and its mission. The matter of inactive licenses should be resolved quickly so the board can focus all its attention on other important issues such as underage drinking and the bars that facilitate it.

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