Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a Baltimore lawyer and a businessman to the city liquor board, part of his plan to eventually replace all three members of the board.
Both Benjamin Neil, 64, and Douglas Trotter, 70, were sworn in Thursday morning at the city clerk's office before their first meeting at City Hall.
Neil, an attorney, previously served as chairman of the city's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. He is replacing 88-year-old former judge Thomas Ward, who was already planning to retire, as the board's chairman.
With Ward at its helm, the liquor board became known for strict enforcement. As of June 23, the panel had found 241 violations at Baltimore bars during the fiscal year — compared with 94 the year before. It had closed or revoked 28 licenses, compared with eight the previous year.
"I have big shoes to fill with Judge Ward," Neil said. "I look forward to working with the new community and being fair and open-minded and following the law."
Neil, who previously taught at Towson University, was accused of plagiarism in 2013. He resigned voluntarily as head of the Baltimore school system's ethics panel amid accusations that his academic articles included content from multiple sources without proper attribution.
"That was all dropped," said Neil, who officially retired as a tenured full professor July 1. "It was a matter of not using quotation marks properly."
Towson spokeswoman Gay Pinder wrote in a statement that the university is limited in its ability to speak on the subject because it is a personnel matter.
"I can say that the matter was conducted pursuant to applicable [University System of Maryland] and University policies," she wrote.
Trotter, the president and CEO of Secure Exchange Solutions, also works as managing principal of the Trotter Group, a strategic consulting firm, and president of Bravo Zulu International, a global management consulting company.
A previous chairman of the panel praised Trotter's experience. "I don't remember the last time a successful businessman has been on the board," said Stephan Fogleman, who chaired the board from 2007 to 2014. "I think that brings some fairness and understanding to the needs of the business community versus unnecessary red tape."
Fogleman predicted that the board will face a familiar question: "Are you pro-community or pro-business?"
"I hope they are neither, that they are fair and down the middle," he said, adding that he believes the previous board leaned heavily toward the community. "What I hope for is uniform application of the law."
Though the board regulates liquor establishments in Baltimore, enforcing liquor laws and hearing neighborhood concerns, it is a state agency with members appointed by the governor.
The two new members' terms will expire June 30, 2017. The third member has not been appointed yet.
Harvey E. Jones, who has been on the board since 2007, will continue to serve in the meantime. He is the newly appointed board's alternate, with a one-year term.
Becky Lundberg Witt, an attorney at the Community Law Center, said that while she recognizes that Thursday's meeting was the new members' first, she saw some cause for concern. The meeting lasted just over 15 minutes, with each of the seven items on the docket passing "very quickly," Witt said.
"I'm worried it'll just be a rubber stamp on the hearing level as long as you have all the paperwork completed," she said. "I just want to be confident that the commissioners all understand the law and are applying it fairly to each case that comes before them."