Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

About this Blog

Written by Kristine Dunkerton

In May 2011, Governor O’Malley signed into law a bill requiring that the State Office of Legislative Audits perform an audit of the Baltimore City Liquor Board once every three years.  In March 2013, the first of these state audits was released.  As has been widely reported, the 89-page report – including recommendations for improvement and Liquor Board responses to these recommendations – found a myriad of institutional shortcomings and inconsistencies at the Liquor Board.  As directed by the authorizing legislation, the audit specifically addressed four components of Liquor Board operation (Licensing, Inspections, Disciplinary Procedures, and Management Oversight), finding that “in each area…comprehensive written policies and procedures were lacking.”

So what does the audit mean?  What happens next?  This summer, we will be following the goings-on at the Liquor Board – and in City Hall and Annapolis – to see how the audit does or does not improve the operation of the Liquor Board.

But first, we ask some important questions:  What (who?) is the Liquor Board?  What does it do?  And how does it affect Baltimore neighborhoods and residents?

WHAT:  The Liquor Board (formally, the “Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City”) issues and regulates all of the liquor licenses in Baltimore City.  An individual or corporate entity must be in possession of a liquor license in order to sell and/or serve alcohol in Baltimore.  With some exceptions, there is a finite number of liquor licenses authorized in the City, which means that they are in high demand and are economically valuable.  Generally, an entity wishing to acquire a liquor license must purchase a license from a current license owner.  This sale is called a liquor license transfer.  Every owner of a liquor license must renew the license each year in March by submitting a license renewal application to the Liquor Board.  This process is called a liquor license renewal.  State law (Maryland Code Article 2B) provides the guidelines for transfer, ownership, and renewal of liquor licenses throughout Maryland.  State law also gives community residents a role in deciding if a liquor license should be allowed to begin operating in their neighborhood and if it should be allowed to remain.  Under state law, each city or county’s liquor board may implement its own written rules and regulations, which must conform to state-wide provisions.

WHO:  The “Liquor Board” can be a confusing term, as it refers to both the three commissioners who hear licensing cases in a quasi-judicial setting and to the entire administrative agency charged with processing licenses and fees.  The current commissioners, appointed by Governor O’Malley following recommendations by the state senators from Baltimore City, are Stephen Fogleman (Chairman of the Liquor Board), Elizabeth Smith, and Harvey Jones.  The administrative agency staff includes an Executive Secretary (currently Samuel Daniels), a Deputy Executive Secretary (currently Jane Schroeder), office personnel, and inspectors charged with monitoring the regulatory compliance of licensed establishments via regular location inspections.

WHAT IT DOES:  Every Thursday at 1:00 pm in room 215 of City Hall, the Liquor Board holds public hearings over which the three commissioners preside.  A public hearing must be held before a license may be transferred to a new owner or location, before a license’s privileges may be upgraded, if a community formally protests the renewal of a license, or if a community submits a formal petition requesting a hearing pursuant to state law.  The Liquor Board may also call public hearings when a licensed establishment is alleged to have violated laws or regulations or when the status of a license is in question.

Four types of Liquor Board hearings provide opportunities for community input:

Transfer Hearing:  Notices of license transfers must be posted on site.  If a community has concerns about an upcoming transfer based on public need and desire for the license; the number and location of existing licenses in the area; the commonality or uniqueness of services provided; the impact on general health, safety, and welfare of the community; or another relevant factor, it may inform the Liquor Board that it wishes to protest the transfer.  The Liquor Board will then schedule a public hearing at which the community and the licensee will appear and the Board will decide whether or not to grant the transfer.

Renewal Hearing: By March 31 of each year, any community seeking to protest the annual renewal of a neighborhood establishment’s liquor license may submit a protest of renewal petition to the Liquor Board with the names, addresses, and signatures of at least 10 residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the establishment.  The Liquor Board will then schedule a public hearing in April at which the community and the liquor licensee will appear.  Though state law allows it to do so, the Liquor Board rarely fails to renew a license.  More frequently, it suspends operation of a license that has been protested.

Violation Hearing:  When the Liquor Board calls a hearing based on a licensed establishment’s failure to comply with laws and regulations, community members with personal knowledge of the specific violations cited in the hearing notice may testify at the hearing.

Revocation Hearing:  In rare circumstances, when a liquor establishment has an especially egregious history, a community may request a revocation hearing and ask the Liquor Board to rescind a liquor license.


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