Harford liquor board confirms administrator's retirement

Harford County's liquor board administrator retired a month ago, board members have confirmed, but not before she had filed a lawsuit against the board to block a potential personnel action against her. The suit was dismissed Wednesday.

Board chairwoman Sandi Tunney said administrator Kathryn Thess retired Sept. 25. Thess initially went on leave in the spring, and her name disappeared from the liquor board's website, although no one at the liquor board would publicly discuss her employment status for several months, except to say she was still an employee.

Judith Powell, who was Thess' assistant, is listed as interim administrator on the website.

Powell said Thursday she does not know if a hiring process is planned or how long she might be the interim administrator.

Thess was hired by the board in August 2007 and was in charge of day-to-day operations at the board's offices in Bel Air. The liquor board licenses establishments that sell alcohol and enforces laws and regulations that govern their operation.

The liquor board has five members who are appointed by the county executive, with the concurrence of the county council and members of Harford's state legislative delegation. The board is a state agency and operates independently of the county.

Neither Tunney nor board attorney Pilar Gracia would comment on the lawsuit or Thess' retirement Wednesday, except to confirm their existence.

According to the complaint Thess' lawyer, Eric E. McLauchlin of Bel Air, filed in Harford County Circuit Court on Aug. 7, Thess had received a correspondence from the board in June summoning her to an "executive session hearing" in which the board referred to a section of the state code governing the employment of an administrator. The complaint alleges the same correspondence used the word "discharge."

McLauchlin, according to the complaint, responded by letter that his client was potentially being denied due process and that the purpose of the "hearing" was unclear. After another correspondence summoning Thess to a hearing was received in Aug. 1, McLauchlin went to court seeking clarification of the board's personnel powers and alleging potential violations of her right to due process.

The complaint also sought $200,000 in monetary damages and court and other related costs.

During the summer, McLauchlin met privately with the board and its attorney, which he previously acknowledged, while declining to discuss the nature of the discussions or his client's status. According to the court docket, the parties met in a judge's chambers on Aug. 15. The record also shows the complaint was dismissed "with prejudice" on Wednesday, meaning it can't be refiled.

The events leading to Thess' departure began within a short time of longtime board chairman Donald Hess stepping down in April because Harford County Executive David Craig declined to reappoint him.

Board actions

During Wednesday's board meeting, the liquor board also approved a wine festival license for Jade Ostner to hold an event at Swan Harbor Farm in Havre de Grace Saturday as part of the Maryland Association of Wineries.

Gino's in Aberdeen was approved for a change of officers, with Ricky McCall becoming a new licensee for the Aberdeen restaurant.

Board members also discussed a rule, technically on the books, that keeps a board decision from being effective until five days after it is published in a newspaper.

The board voted to adopt that policy moving forward as well, Powell said.

Applications for First Friday events at Laurrapin Grille, MacGregor's Restaurant and Vineyard Wine Bar in Havre de Grace were all approved for Nov. 1 to coincide with First Fridays.

The license for Santini's Restaurant in Joppa was returned after it had been suspended when the board learned the owner's teenage son had a party with alcohol in January.

One-day beer and wine licenses were approved for a bull roast by the Harford County Association of Realtors' foundation, which had been set for Thursday; a Nov. 2 Holiday Art Show by the Harford Artists Association; the second annual Downtown Bel Air Music Fest on Nov. 2, sponsored by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance; a Nov. 2 pig roast by the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps; a Nov. 2 bull and shrimp roast at Holy Spirit Church; a Nov. 3 wine tasting at Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Church; a Nov. 3 Travis Tritt concert at Harford Community College; a Nov. 9 birthday bash by the Committee to Elect Wayne Norman; and a Nov. 9 fundraiser by Citizens for Andrew Cassilly.

A Nov. 1 fine arts preview party at Harford Day School also got a one-day beer, wine and liquor license.

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