The General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to legislation that will move most of Baltimore's liquor board inspectors from a patronage system to a merit system -- a move seen as a first step in reforming the board's operations.
Members of the House passed the bill 131-4. The Senate had approved the measure, and the governor is expected to sign it into law.
"It's long overdue," said Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "It is a solid first step. It finally begins to depoliticize the system."
The three-member Board of Liquor Licensing Commissioners -- known as the liquor board -- and the 31 inspectors who work for the panel are all political appointees of the city's senators. They do not have the benefits or protections from political influence that they would under a civil service system.
Some inspectors have been accused of carrying out favors for bar owners or legislators that were regarded as unethical -- including pressuring the owners of bars they inspect to contribute to senators' political campaigns.
Since the early 1980s, some Baltimore lawmakers have worked for reforms, but met strong opposition from some city senators who were unwilling to give up their appointment authority.
The legislation approved yesterday will move the liquor board's 18 full-time inspectors, who make $19,900 a year, into the city's civil service system. The three commissioners and the 11 part-time inspectors will remain political appointees.
Opponents of the bill say the whole board should have been placed under the civil service system -- or none at all. Unless the whole board is reformed, critics say, the system will be riddled with political influence.
"The only people who will be in the civil service system will be the full-time inspectors," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat and lead opponent of the measure. "Everyone else will be in an appointed position. What sense does that make?"
Della also argued during debates on the bill that it was better to keep the inspectors as political appointees so that senators could fire them at will. Under the civil service system, the inspectors will have the right to a hearing if they faced termination on any charge, which Della contends would help bad employees stay on the job.
Della -- who was squeezed out of the latest decisions for liquor board appointments by other city senators -- said his biggest concern is that there still are several positions open to political influence.
His arguments appear to have credence.
Even as lawmakers were moving the bill to depoliticize the inspectors, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, chairman of the city's Senate delegation, was playing another card in the political game.
Because of an amendment McFadden succeeded in adding to the bill, the legislation will require that the board's executive secretary and deputy executive secretary live in the city. It is widely believed that provision is designed to oust deputy executive secretary Jane M. Schroeder, who lives in Bel Air. Schroeder declined to say yesterday if she would move in an attempt to keep the job.
McFadden also has made clear he is frustrated that the liquor board hasn't hired his political ally, former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr., to the $59,000-a-year executive secretary post. City senators recommended the appointment in January.
Pub Date: 4/02/97