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New Baltimore chief liquor inspector approved over Pratt's objections

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt during a Board of Estimates meeting in June 2012.
Comptroller Joan M. Pratt during a Board of Estimates meeting in June 2012. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore's spending panel on Wednesday approved hiring a retired police officer as the city's new chief liquor inspector — over the objections of Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

The Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, voted 3-1 to hire Shelton Jones Jr. at a $72,000 salary. The board approved an exception for Jones to take the job while receiving his full city pension.

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Limits on re-hiring retired workers to city government are meant to prevent so-called "double dipping" situations in which an employee collects a paycheck and a pension at the same time. But liquor board executive Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth said Jones was the most qualified of 55 candidates for the job and would likely not be willing to take the post if doing so meant a cut to his pension benefits.

Bailey-Hedgepeth said Jones' 22 years of experience as a police officer will help remedy many of the problems uncovered in a scathing state audit of the city liquor board last year. The General Assembly approved emergency changes to the liquor board this year after the audit revealed widespread mismanagement and spotty enforcement by the agency. A committee made up of city and state officials helped select Bailey-Hedgepeth as the board's new executive. Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed two new members to the board: Former judge Thomas Ward and attorney Dana P. Moore.

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The new liquor board has increased enforcement dramatically, statistics show. Bailey-Hedgepeth said hiring Jones would help bring about further reform.

"The investigative skills he brings to the table are vital and key," she said. "He will be out in the field with our inspectors. He's a very hands-on candidate."

But Pratt said the liquor board's desire to hire its favored candidate is not a good reason to waive city rules preventing "double dipping."

"You want a waiver so he can keep his pension," Pratt said. "This type of waiver would not be granted for the vast majority of individuals. ... This individual will make more than if he had stayed a policeman."

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City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young abstained from the vote. But Rawlings-Blake and her two appointees to the board approved the deal.

Jones will manage the day-to-day operations of the agency's approximately 10 liquor board inspectors.

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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