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New Harford liquor board members Merchant and Welch sworn in Wednesday

Fred Merchant, one of two new members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board, poses with Clerk of the Circuit Court Jim Reilly after Reilly swore him in Wednesday.
Fred Merchant, one of two new members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board, poses with Clerk of the Circuit Court Jim Reilly after Reilly swore him in Wednesday. (Courtest of Louis Reichart / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Fred Merchant and James Welch took their seats Wednesday after being sworn in as the newest members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board.

James Reilly, clerk of the Circuit Court, presided over the swearing in ceremony at the beginning of Wednesday's regular board meeting.

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Board members also selected C. John Sullivan Jr., now the senior member, as the board chair. Sheryl Davis Kohl was renamed vice chair.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman nominated Merchant, 58, of Havre de Grace, and Welch, 72, of Bel Air to the board.

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They were appointed to fill the seats of former Chair Michael Thomson and former Commissioner Tom Fidler. Fidler and Thomson had served on the board since 2011, but Glassman did not reappoint them to new terms.

The appointments were approved earlier this year by Harford County's legislative delegation in Annapolis and the County Council.

Liquor board members serve three-year terms and are paid $6,000 a year; the chair is paid $7,000 a year. Merchant and Welch join Sullivan, who was appointed to his first term by former County Executive David Craig in 2013, Kohl, who Glassman appointed in 2015, and Walter "Butch" Tilley, who Glassman appointed last year.

James Welch, left, is one of two new members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board. He took his seat Wednesday after being sworn in, and he sits with Commissioner Walter "Butch" Tilley and Vice Chair Sheryl Davis Kohl.
James Welch, left, is one of two new members of the Harford County Liquor Control Board. He took his seat Wednesday after being sworn in, and he sits with Commissioner Walter "Butch" Tilley and Vice Chair Sheryl Davis Kohl. (David Anderson / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Glassman re-appointed Sullivan in 2016.

The new board members took part in a meeting that lasted at least an hour, and they and their colleagues had to weigh in on a number of decisions, such as approving a liquor license transfer, approving outdoor areas for alcohol service, the extension of the deadline to apply for a license renewal for a business where one license holder no longer works — liquor licenses in Harford County expire by April 30 each year — as well as approving beer, wine and liquor licenses for one-day community events wehre alcohol will be served.

Welch, who is a member of Bel Air Moose Lodge 1952, had to recuse himself from a vote on modifying outdoor service areas at the lodge's Forest Hill facility. His colleagues approved the modification 4-0.

"It was an honor to have been appointed, and it's going to be a real honor to serve," Welch said after the meeting.

Welch works in the commercial real estate field, and he has served as public relations director for the Town of Bel Air's economic development department.

He said working for the town allowed him to get to know local tavern owners and become familiar with county liquor laws.

"I still have a lot to learn," he said.

Welch is married with two children and two grandchildren. He is a former chairman of the Harford Community College Foundation, and he served on the Harford County Public Library Foundation board. He is involved in multiple community organizations such as the Moose lodge and the Greater Harford Committee.

"It's just an opportunity to give back to the community," he said of his liquor board service.

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Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has nominated two new people for seats on the five-member Liquor Control Board, bypassing the two members whose terms are expiring but who were eligible for reappointment.

Merchant also sees being on the liquor board as a way to serve the community.

"It's important to serve the local government," he said. "People complain all the time, but no one is willing to help serve."

Merchant retired from the Army in 2003 after 22 years of service. His military career included assignments to Saudi Arabia and Germany. He has worked with SURVICE Engineering, of Belcamp, since he retired.

He is married with two children. He is a member of Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, and he volunteers with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County in Aberdeen.

"I think it's an interesting process, " he said of his first meeting. "I like the fact that the business owners have an opportunity to speak on behalf of their business and that the board can ask questions of the business owner to get a better perspective."

Ronnie Walls, the former owner of Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse in Forest Hill and a regular attendee of board meetings, congratulated the new members during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"I'm very pleased that the liquor board has become more business friendly, and with the new commissioners I hope it continues," Walls said.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.

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