Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young have appointed three new commissioners to the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners.
The appointees include former Court of Special Appeals Judge Albert Matricciani Jr., attorney and previous liquor board commissioner Dana P. Moore and attorney Aaron Greenfield. A fourth alternate will be nominated soon, according to Howard Libit, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake.
Matricciani will chair the board, which has been vacant since the Maryland Senate Executive Nominations Committee did not confirm the previous four members, appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan. The new members were sworn in Wednesday.
Matricciani, Moore and Greenfield met for a briefing after they were sworn into their new positions.
"Our goal, I think, is to move the docket on a regular basis expeditiously and do it fairly and transparently," Matricciani, who serves as senior counsel at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP, said in an interview.
He said he hopes to used his experience as a trial judge to give every party the chance to present their side and then apply the law fairly, even if that means making unpopular decisions.
Of the three new appointees, Moore is the only one with previous liquor board experience and a deep knowledge of Article 2B of the State Code of Maryland, which governs liquor law. Founder of law firm Petersen Moore LLC, she said she's honored to be returning.
"I'm happy to be back and I'm looking for a reset," said Moore, who served on the liquor board from 2014 to 2015. "I'd like the opportunity to do the job better."
Moore had been a member of the city's Planning Commission, a role she resigned from Wednesday upon her appointment to the liquor board. She hopes to do a better job of listening to the needs of liquor board staff, she said, adding she also wants to get to know more business owners and licensees who come before the liquor board.
"We can make decisions that really can determine in those small ways the possible direction of a community," Moore said. "It's unique and it's exciting, and it feels weighty to me — it feels like a big responsibility."
It's the first time in recent history the board has been appointed by the city rather than the state. Hogan appointed four commissioners last year — Chairman Benjamin Neil, Douglas Trotter, Elizabeth Hafey and alternate commissioner Harvey Jones. Neil, Trotter and Hafey's appointments were rejected by the state Senate Executive Nominations Committee last month, and Hogan withdrew Jones' nomination.
Baltimore residents and community activists had criticized the previous board for being too business friendly and failing to weigh the concerns of nearby residents when awarding liquor licenses.
"We recognize that like many things there tends to be a tension between interests, and our job is to balance those interests and do our best to regulate and follow the law … and do what's in the best interest of the community," Greenfield, a principal at Greenfield & Kress PA, said in an interview. "I think this is going to very much be a case-by-case [situation] and listening to both sides, and our real charge is to follow the law. We're regulators."
Becky Lundberg Witt, an attorney at the nonprofit Community Law Center who has kept a watchful eye on the liquor board's evolution, said she wants to see the board apply the law fairly to liquor licensees going forward.
"They seem to have pretty impressive legal backgrounds, which is really great," she said. "All I want is a board where the commissioners are prepared, they know what the law says better than anyone else, and they run a hearing well and they apply the law in a fair and consistent way."
After Hogan's appointments fell through, the General Assembly passed a bill to transfer the power of liquor board appointments to the city and out of the governor's hands.
At the same time the board's commissioners were not approved, its executive secretary, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, also left the agency. Rawlings-Blake said if Bailey-Hedgepeth is interested in returning to the board, she is confident the new members will "take a serious look at her."
"Michelle was very highly regarded for the work that she did," Rawlings-Blake said.
The board's weekly hearings could resume as early as Thursday, Rawlings-Blake said.
"It's a work in progress, but I think it's going to be interesting, it's exciting and it's an opportunity to do something in the public," Matricciani said.
Seven hearings to protest contested liquor licenses, originally scheduled for April 21, were put on hold indefinitely as the board awaited new appointments. Baltimore residents are protesting the renewal of licenses for Half Mile Track, Club 347, The Drinkery, Stadium Lounge, A-One Convenience Store, Four G's Liquor & Lounge and W.C. Harlan.
Typically, liquor licenses in Baltimore must be renewed annually before April 30. The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill extending the period for renewals by one month this year because no board has been in place to hear protests against the contested licenses.