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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen12:45 pmJan 14, 20140

Key Liquor Board position open – and stirring controversy

Will the ultimate insider – a current commissioner – be named to head the staff of the troubled agency?

Above: Word that Liquor Board Commissioner Harvey Jones (right) is considering applying for the $100,000-per-year Liquor Board executive secretary job has ruffled political waters in Baltimore and Annapolis.

The top-paying job at the long-criticized Baltimore City Liquor Board is up for grabs, but aspects of the hiring process are fueling concerns – chief among them the fact that one of the three Liquor Board commissioners has let it be known he might be applying for job.

Harvey E. Jones (with Chairman Stephan W. Fogleman and Elizabeth C. Smith) sits on the on the powerful three-member city Board of Liquor License Commissioners that meets once a week to make decisions on liquor license transfers and violations.

Jones told The Brew yesterday that he is considering seeking – but has not formally applied for – the full-time $100,000-per year job of executive secretary, which involves the day-to-day running of the office including supervision of liquor inspectors.

“I’m not sure yet, I’m just looking at my options,” Jones said. “I’m talking it over with my wife.”

Community members and their advocates are especially concerned about the potential conflicts if Jones is being considered, even informally, for the job, given that the Board members themselves would typically be expected to get involved in the hiring process and vote to confirm the final hire.

Long-Troubled Agency, Vowed Reform

Liquor Board leadership is of special concern to community activists who have for years complained about poor regulation of nuisance bars and restaurants – and applauded the harsh critique of the Board delivered last year by state auditors.

(They were found to have given bars with expired licenses a pass, lacked formal written policies, failed to verify the licenses of hundreds of establishments and failed to determine whether licensees had paid required fees. With 14 full-time and five part-time inspectors at the time, the auditors said they were under-performing – doing work that arguably could be completed by six people.)

In the wake of the March 2013 audit, the Board’s longtime executive secretary Samuel T. Daniels Jr. announced his retirement, creating the vacancy. (Interim executive secretary Douglas K. Paige has reportedly made plans to run for Register of Wills.)

Finding the right person to replace Daniels will essentially determine whether any of the reforms prescribed in the audit ever take place and take hold, in the view of attorneys at the Community Law Center, which often represents neighborhoods at Board hearings.

“We would like to see a new face, someone from outside of the agency,” said staff attorney Rebecca Lundberg Witt, who monitors the Board and writes the Center’s “Booze News” watchdog blog. (The Brew partners with the CLC on the blog.)

“We’d also like to see somebody who is highly qualified, which in our opinion requires a law degree,” Witt said. “The Board needs someone in the position who has been trained to decipher the dense statutory language of Article 2B.”

Deadline Near, Process Murky

With the approach of the January 31 deadline for candidates to apply, questions have been looming about how Jones’ case is being handled, whether he must resign from the Board in order to be considered, whether members of the public may have any input into the process, or just what the process is.

Asked about the executive secretary vacancy in a phone interview with The Brew, Fogleman was initially circumspect, noting that the board has received several resumes. “It’s open until January 31,” he said. “As soon as it closes, I’ll be able to be more open about the process.”

But what about Jones? Fogleman said he would not comment directly, since Jones hasn’t formally applied, but he said he has consulted the city Ethics Board on how to handle the matter.

“There is still a possibility that a member of the commission may apply for the position,” Fogleman said. “In that regard, the commission has been informed that that person is to be excluded from all meetings going on about filling the position, no matter how mundane.” There was no requirement, in the informal advisory, that the applicant resign as commissioner.

Fogleman explained that, if it came to a vote for a commissioner candidate, the two other commissioners would cast it: “Obviously the person would not vote for himself.”

Patronage Problems?

Hovering over the matter, sources say, are the political complications should Jones step down, essentially costing Sen. Joan Carter Conway her appointee on the Board. (City senators, serially, make appointments to the Board; the governor then confirms the appointment.)

Fogleman said he couldn’t comment at this point on whether whether the hiring process may include involvement by the Governor’s Working Group, which community members have sought unsuccessfully to join. (It was convened ostensibly for follow-through on the audit recommendations.)

Asked for more details about the position, Fogleman noted that the $100,000 annual salary is “subject to change by the legislature” and added that”there has been national interest,” with applications coming in from Chicago and New York.

So, what qualities are they looking for in candidates?

“We need a workhorse,” Fogleman said. “Somebody who can help develop and implement our action plan.”


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