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Peroutka keeps Anne Arundel liquor board in $20,000-a-year exile

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

It will cost an additional $20,000 a year for the Anne Arundel County Board of License Commissioners to hold its meetings outside of County Council chambers.

The board asked Council Chairman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville, to end the exile started last year, and allow them to use the chambers again. He has refused.

The chairman manages which official bodies can use the chambers at the Arundel Center in Annapolis for public meetings. Emails between board staff and Peroutka obtained by The Capital show those discussions began back in January.

Peroutka, who is seeking re-election this year, wouldn’t elaborate on his decision.

“I have given them an answer,” Peroutka said.

The board’s budget is approved by the Maryland Comptroller of Treasury but paid from the county budget using board revenues. Leftover money is rolled into the county budget. Extra expenditures eat into that funding.

The board requested an additional $19,700 in its fiscal 2019 budget linked to the cost of holding meetings at The Hilton Doubletree Hotel in Annapolis.

Board officials said Peroutka told them to work out issues with Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, before they could return to the chambers.

Grasso, who barred the board from chambers last year while he served as council chairman, said if liquor board Chairman John G. Warner steps down, he would allow them to return to using the chambers.

The councilman has expressed frustration at the board long denying a liquor license to The Depot Fine Wine and Spirits. The owner of the proposed store in Parole has been trying to get a license for the store for more than five years. Appeals have taken the case to Maryland’s highest court where a ruling has yet to occur.

The councilman wants the board to change its position that the area is too saturated for another liquor store, said Judy Hagner, administrator for the liquor board.

“He is asking something the board can’t do,” Hagner said.

Hagner went before the council Monday to discuss the budget. The board’s meeting site did not come up in the short discussion. The hotel conference room costs about $1,450 per meeting, Hagner said. Depending on the board’s workload, it could meet once or twice a month. The board also spent $6,000 on new equipment to continue recording meetings at the new location, she said

Grasso was the council chairman when he exiled the board May of last year. Grasso said he was frustrated with what he saw as “corruption” and wanted a new liquor board. When a previously serving board member — Warner — was reinstated by Gov. Larry Hogan, Grasso viewed that as the last straw and threw the board out. Liquor board commissioners are appointed by the county’s senators.

A year and multiple thousands of dollars later, Grasso said he doesn’t regret his decision because it shows that “unethical” actions wouldn't be tolerated.

“Are you asking if the juice was worth the squeeze?” Grasso said. “It absolutely was.”

Grasso versus the board

Grasso and the liquor board had their share of back-and-forths leading up to the Glen Burnie Republican’s decision to move the group’s meeting locations.

In 2015, the board requested a $70,000 increase for contractual attorney work linked to contested liquor licenses and the protracted battles over The Depot’s license request. The council cut that money in half with Grasso admonishing the board’s spending.

The board also had to pay a $2,800 bill after former chairman Melvin Hyatt was found to have violated the county’s conflict of interest laws. The board’s attorney billed it after rendering legal advise that the other two commissioners had no involvement. The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission ordered Hyatt to pay $2,500 for not disclosing investments and compensation from Severn Bancorp from 2009 to 2013.

Grasso further threw himself into the story when he asked to join the Depot’s liquor license lawsuit, saying he wanted to represent the public’s opinion in the court. But a judge denied Grasso’s request after attorneys argued he was trying to use his legislative power inside the courtroom.

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