Liquor Law Compliance Means Fewer Fines

December 28, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,

Revocations and suspensions levied by the city liquor board held steady this year, but fines fell substantially, a sign that the board's message of total compliance has taken hold, its chairman says.

The $121,558 in fines is down about 48 percent from 2008, when commissioners set a high mark of more than $231,000. Fines have fallen because licensees knew what to expect going into 2009, the current board's second full year, according to chairman Stephan Fogleman.

"What we're doing is asking everybody to obey the laws, even in this time of economic uncertainty," Fogleman said. "The overwhelming majority of licensees are compliant, but we are always concerned about a few different licensees at a given time that either don't understand the rules or don't care."

The liquor board revoked, ordered a transfer of ownership or did not renew five licenses this year, one more than in 2008.

The board, made up of Fogleman and commissioners Harvey Jones and Elizabeth Smith, suspended licenses of 10 owners, the same as in 2008. The suspensions ranged from three days to six months.

As the year closes, the board's focus seems to have shifted back to The Block, the downtown adult entertainment district on Baltimore Street.

Two strip clubs - Lust and Stagedoor - have faced recent suspensions, and two more clubs are scheduled to appear before the board next month. Another establishment, Club Miami, was fined $1,250 during a hearing in December.

"The Block has learned a lot about what this liquor board stands for - 100 percent compliance," Fogleman said. "Is there a higher standard on The Block than on a corner bar? No. But there are two separate licenses we issue, and as such, we have twice the regulation over them. So they're subject to double and have a higher burden."

The board regulates the sale, storage and distribution of alcoholic beverages in Baltimore. Although it is under the state, revenue it collects through licensing and fines goes to the city, and the department is a self-sustaining agency.

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