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Harford school board candidate gets 'phoned-in' liquor license days before fundraiser

Without meeting in public, Harford County Liquor Board members expedited and approved a one-day beer and wine license for the campaign for Thomas Fitzpatrick, a school board member running for his seat in the June 24 primary election.

The license was applied for just days before the campaign held a fundraiser last month.

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Fitzpatrick came in to the liquor board office on Main Street in Bel Air on April 25, seeking approval for his April 27 event, liquor inspector Charlie Robbins said Thursday. The fundraiser was held at Arts by the Bay gallery in Havre de Grace.

The board approved the license the same day by phone and email, contingent on his agreement to attend the board's next meeting after the fact, Robbins said.

Fitzpatrick, however, did not show up for the board's meeting Wednesday. Board members agreed to give him one more chance to make an appearance.

Robbins explained the one-day event license was approved because the board knew where the event was being held and "the board tries to make it easy for people who are trying to [do a non-profit event]."

Robbins said the board members either phone in or emailed their votes, rather than meeting in public. Normally, the board approves event licenses for non-profits during its public meetings.

Robbins noted Fitzpatrick did pay a $50 late fee, which Robbins said is the board's main way of reprimanding people for licenses requested after the board's most recent regular meeting but before an event.

Board Administrator Judith Powell directed all comment to the board's attorney, Pilar Gracia, who did not respond to a request for comment by Thursday afternoon.

Neither Fitzpatrick, board chairwoman Sandi Tunney nor board member Thomas Fidler responded to requests for comment Thursday. Other board members also could not be reached.

A resident of Havre de Grace, Fitzpatrick was appointed to an at-large seat on the school board by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2012. He is running in the primary for the elected seat representing the area covered by county council District F, greater Havre de Grace and Riverside.

A spokesman for the state's Office of the Attorney General declined to comment on the issue of the non-public vote. He explained the office does not comment on any matter that may come before the Open Meeting Compliance Board.

A public body must have an approved exception for holding a "closed" meeting, as well as provide public disclosure before and after the session, according to state law.

Businesses fined

During the liquor board's meeting Wednesday, five businesses were fined for serving alcohol to an underage cadet during a February sting operation.

Bottleworks in Bel Air, Cliff's Liquors in Darlington, 7-Eleven in Fallston and Scotty's in Whiteford were each fined $1,000 on Wednesday for serving alcohol to a minor during the Feb. 21 compliance test.

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American Legion 182, in Whiteford, was fined $500 after being found in violation for both selling to a minor and selling alcohol to a non-member, as the post has a club liquor license.

Licensees from all the businesses admitted to the error and apologized. James Bishop, from Bottleworks, also got praise for offering an "apology to the public."

Board member Thomas Fidler responded: "I think that is the first time I have heard a licensee pass that condolence."

Several of the businesses have been operating for decades and had virtually no contact with the liquor board, their licensees noted.

Cliff's has been serving alcohol for 50 years and 7-Eleven has been run by Donald and Myra Hefner for 40 years, they said.

In other business, one-day beer and wine licenses were granted to Sts. Mary Magdalene & Markella Greek Orthodox Church, St. Joan of Arc School and the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement.

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