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After 18 years on liquor board, Hess presides over his last meeting

Donald Hess ended more than 18 years on the Harford County Liquor Control Board rather quietly.

"And for the last time, motion to adjourn?" Hess, whose term expires Saturday, asked his fellow liquor board members after a very brief meeting Wednesday afternoon at the board's Main Street office.

And with a motion, a second and a bang of the gavel, Hess said farewell to the board he has been on for 18 years and chairman of for the last dozen.

"Thank you for your service to the county," board members said.

"Our county is a better place because of you," fellow board member Tom Fidler said.

Hess was not reappointed to the board by Harford County Executive David Craig; he will be replaced by his brother-in-law, C. John Sullivan Jr., executive director of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, former director of assessments for the county and the state, and father of Craig's deputy chief of staff, C. John Sullivan III.

Hess was disappointed when he was not asked to return to the board, and still is.

"It was a political move and the county executive had every right to do what he did. I still think I did a good job," Hess said after Wednesday's meeting. "We have a lot of new people on the board; my experience would have been good to keep on the board."

Sullivan's appointment is effective April 1.

Fallston resident Hess said he is proud of many of the board's accomplishments in the last 18 years, first and foremost with the board's office.

When he was appointed, the board had a small, two-room office, with little to speak of as far as computers, across from the Harford County Courthouse.

"Everything was very basic. I was one of the driving forces behind the move to this location," he said.

The licensees' respect for the liquor board has "totally changed" over the last 15 years, as well.

"The feeling is that we're not after them, to get them into a violation, but more so to help them avoid a violation and underage drinking," he said.

The board, which is self-sufficient as far as funding, has found numerous ways to pay for various programs to help licensees, like the fake ID campaign Hess helped kick off before Wednesday's meeting, the Cops in Shops and the underage compliance tests.

Liquor laws, he said, aren't black and white; there's a wide range of gray, giving the board liberty to makes decisions on cases. He cited two specifically: a second license for the corporation that operates Bonefish Grill and a request to open a liquor store near the intersection of Routes 155, 136 and 22 in Churchville. The first was approved, the latter was denied.

Hess said his staff "is the best staff anywhere," and liquor board administrator Kathryn Thess "has the most knowledge of [Article] 2B than anyone I know, including lawyers."

Behind Montgomery County, Harford's liquor board is tops in the state as far as being looked up to, Hess said.

"How we handle things, the aggressive stuff we do for our licensees regarding underage drinking, we do more than anyone," he said.

He said he wishes he could have stayed a little longer, but understands the politics.

"I really enjoyed being chairman. I'm really going to miss it," Hess said.

The board did conduct business at Hess' last meeting.

The members said they want the board's chief inspector, Charlie Robbins III, to meet with a deputy state fire marshal and Jon Kohler, owner of Pairings Bistro in Emmorton, to discuss Kohler's plan to expand the outside seating area.

The board had questions about allowing customers to carry alcoholic drinks across the four-foot public right of way on the sidewalk between the building and the seating area, and questioned the need for barriers around the seating area and if those barriers need a way to "escape" in the event of an emergency.

Ladew Gardens Executive Director Emily Emerick and Finance Director Vicki Farlow appeared before the board to discuss Ladew's request or a one-day license for an outside event April 13. It's part of the board's new policy to have one-day license holders talk to the board about events before approving them.

The dinner follows the Manor Races, and is geared more toward an older crowd where underage drinking typically doesn't happen.

"It's a typically less raucous event than it was 15 years ago," Emerick said.

Maria Lombardi was added as a licensee to My Three Sons, 3710 Federal Hill Road in Jarrettsville. The Street resident has worked at the restaurant for eight years and will be the resident licensee. She said she's at the restaurant 40 to 50 hours a week.

Staff at the Deck Crab House and Bar hope to have renovations finished by early April. Plans for the restaurant were approved by the Harford County Health Department and a permit for the work has been issued; they're waiting on the contractor to do the work, Thess told board members, updating the restaurant's status.

The board also approved a request from The Bayou restaurant in Havre de Grace to have an outside event April 20 and a request from John Carroll School in Bel Air for a one-day beer and wine license for the Final Four bull roast April 6.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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