Liquor board inspectors object to working at night

The city liquor board has begun enforcing a law about licenses that have been unused for months.
The city liquor board has begun enforcing a law about licenses that have been unused for months. (Colby Ware / BALTIMORE SUN)

The eight inspectors of the Baltimore liquor board have sent a letter to their bosses raising concerns about a new work schedule that requires them to inspect bars at night and on weekends.

In the letter, the inspectors, who include former liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler, say the order to work at night violates a written agreement from 2013 with the city's labor commissioner that liquor board inspectors' shifts end at 4:30 p.m. A new work schedule, imposed by a revamped liquor board, requires inspectors to begin work later in the day, ending their shifts at 11 p.m. during weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends.


"The work schedule is highly disruptive to our family lives," the inspectors wrote.

The letter, dated March 16, was posted on social media this week. In it, the inspectors say they are now required to conduct between 10 and 12 bar inspections per day — a demand they say is "not possible."

"We believe that you fail to appreciate that we are liquor inspectors and not police and do not carry firearms," they wrote. "We are constantly in fear for our safety at these late hours, as we are required to visit areas with well-documented high crime rates."

The General Assembly approved emergency changes to the liquor board last year after a scathing audit revealed widespread mismanagement and spotty enforcement by the agency. The audit found, among other problems, that about 200 bars were never inspected during an entire year. Two liquor board inspectors who were expected to conduct more than 800 liquor establishment inspections each year completed only 41, the audit said.

Liquor board Chairman Thomas Ward responded to the inspectors' letter Friday, arguing that the new schedule makes sense for an agency trying to increase its enforcement of nightlife violations. The agency in years past was an "ineffective operation" that conducted "virtually no inspections of licensees at night and on weekends," Ward wrote.

"The purpose of employing inspectors at city taxpayer expense is not to provide cushy jobs, but to enforce the law," Ward wrote. "Failure of inspectors to carry out these instructions will result in discharge — facts warranting."

Under Ward, the liquor board has gained a reputation for cracking down on bars it sees as problems, increasing violation citations and closures. The agency has charged 88 percent more violations this year and doubled its number of convictions.

But Stephan W. Fogleman, a former board chairman who now represents liquor establishments, said he believes the eight inspectors have valid concerns about the new demands placed on their work, given their relatively small number.

"They're working with less inspectors than ever before, and they're doing several times the work each inspector once did," Fogleman said.