Harford liquor board wants to get rid of resident license requirement

Members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board say they want to get rid of the state law that requires a Harford County resident to be on every license they issue to businesses that sell alcoholic beverages.

The challenge of finding a resident licensee came up Wednesday when a lawyer for Hickory Lodge near Bel Air informed the board that the establishment's resident licensee had abruptly resigned.

Harford's liquor laws, which are state statutes enacted by the Maryland General Assembly, require that there be at least one Harford resident for each license application. The resident licensee must also own at least 10 percent of the business.

Board members agreed the requirement is obsolete. Board member Thomas Fidler advocated they petition the county's legislators to eliminate it.

Fidler said he has long believed the residency requirements should be jettisoned, and lawyer Albert J. Young, who represented Hickory Lodge's applicants at Wednesday's board meeting, agreed it is wrong.

"Frankly, I think it's not constitutional, it's not equal protection," Young said, referring to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

"If I am a Baltimore County resident, what makes a Harford County resident more qualified?" Young said. "We may have to take a less qualified person because of where they live, and that is crazy."

Fidler said the issue has come up before with the county's legislative delegation, and Young noted that one delegate felt keeping the residency requirement was important.

"I really think it's not," Young said.

New administrator

The board announced that Judith Powell is the board's new administrator.

Powell, a longtime staff member, had been acting administrator for several months following the forced retirement last year of Kathryn Thess.

Powell has been permanent administrator since Jan. 2, inspector Charles Robbins said.

The board last fall confirmed that Thess retired Sept. 25, after going on leave from the board last spring. Thess had filed a lawsuit against the board to block a potential personnel action against her, which was dismissed in October after a settlement was reached between her and the board.

With the change in leadership, Powell suggested to the board that transcripts of the meeting audiotapes be done by an outside contractor.

Powell had been producing the transcripts, but she and board attorney Pilar Gracia said that would be a conflict of interest.

Powell and the board debated the possibility that individual board members might not be identified in future transcripts, as the transcription service would not be physically present for the meetings.

Violation, fine, other actions

The liquor board charged the owner of El Rodeo Mexican Bar & Grill in Abingdon with a violation after he failed to come to Wednesday's meeting.

The owner was supposed to discuss changes to the business, which Robbins said is mostly just a name change.

He said the restaurant plans to drop the "El" from its name and become just "Rodeo." He said signs and the restaurant facade have been changed to reflect that.

Last October, the board fined El Rodeo $6,000 because of several assaults near the establishment, some of which police had said involved known gang members. At the time, owner Neel Kamal and his lawyer said the business had begun attracting a rowdier crowd, including gang members, when he started featuring rap music. He said he had taken steps to curb the previous problems.

The board also accepted a $250 fine from Main Street Oyster House in Bel Air.

The board imposed the fine in November after the owner/licensee of the business had failed to appear before the board when requested to discuss hours of operation and the resignation of his resident licensee. The owner, Chris Reda, eventually did come before the board and apologized, calling the previous failure to appear a "miscommunication," but the fine stuck.

The board also approved one-day licenses for a Snow Ball at Bulle Rock by the Southern Harford County Rotary and for a 4-H Club event at Deer Creek Overlook.

One-day beer and wine licenses were approved for the Harford Artists Association for a Jan. 11 Starving Artist Show at the cottage at Rockfield Manor and the Harford Community College Foundation for a Feb. 23 wine expo at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena.

In business from the administrator and inspectors:

• Kent Island Seafood Inc. informed the board it would close for vacation and re-open Jan. 20.

• A resident licensee at Aberdeen Liquors was on a leave of absence for a family emergency out of the country, the board was informed.

• A license was issued Dec. 20 to Towne Grill & Pub on Joppa Farm Road.

• Robbins also recognized American Legion Post 39 for opening its hall to help people displaced by a fire on Bel Air's Crocker Drive in November.

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