A committee slated to review the Baltimore Liquor Board’s rules, which have not been updated since 1998, is in limbo.
Made up of residents, lawyers, and licensees, the committee was supposed to present a report to the Liquor Board early next month, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, the Liquor Board executive secretary, said in June.
But the committee, which the board solicited members for in May, has not yet been chosen, she said today.
Bailey-Hedgepeth attributed the lag time to the board’s heavy workload. A new chair, Thomas Ward, took over the three-member panel in late June.
“We’ve been busy trying to attend to other matters that were listed in the audit, and managing a busy docket over the last few months,” she said, referring to the state’s 2013 audit, which found many faults with board procedures.
Bailey-Hedgepeth told The Brew it was her hope to move forward with the rules rewrite committee in November.
“I will talk with the board within the next few weeks. We want it wrapped up before the next fiscal year – July 2015,” she said.
Postponed to 2015
But a few minutes later, after consulting with Ward, Bailey-Hedgepeth said the board will be appointed at a later date.
“After talking to the chair, the committee start date will occur after the new year: 2015. I am sorry for the confusion,” she said in an email, adding that she was confident the board will meet the state legislature deadline. The Alcoholic Beverages Act requires the review be completed by October 31, 2015 – and done every five years thereafter.
Bailey-Hedgepeth said the board has already sent out one notice telling the 25 rule rewrite committee applicants – many of them local liquor activists – that the selection process has been postponed.
“We will probably send out another,” she said.
Committee not Necessary
One reason why the board appears to be dragging its feet is because the rewrite committee is not mandatory.
While a rules review is mandated by the 2014 Alcoholic Beverages Act, a citizens’ rewrite committee is not required. “That [the committee] was an animal of the former board,” Bailey-Hedgepeth said.
She and the former board, headed by Stephan W. Fogleman, had drafted a plan for the review committee. It called for 15-18 members, with an equal number of licensees, community members and attorneys, meeting weekly for about 10 weeks, then presenting recommendations to the board.
“I don’t know if plans for the committee will stay the same,” she said today.
Whatever the rule review process, “it will be public with public comment opportunities,” she added.
In the meantime, Liquor Board staff have been collecting and reviewing various sets of rules and regulations from Maryland jurisdictions and other cities, according to Bailey-Hedgepeth. “We are constantly looking [at] and examining best practices, so that we can improve our operations.”