In a move its supporters say is designed to bring professionalism and credibility to a long-beleaguered agency, the Baltimore City Liquor License Board has won state approval to automatically boost employee salaries by up to 23.5 percent.
Under a bill approved by the General Assembly and signed into law last week by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the pay increases for the chief inspector, inspectors, secretaries and other personnel at the liquor board will go into effect Oct. 1.
The approval comes as sources within the liquor licensing agency say that indictments of liquor board employees are expected within days as the result of a long-standing investigation by Stephen Montanarelli, the state prosecutor.
"The indictments are imminent," a board source said yesterday.
Personnel records for the board's chief inspector, Anthony J. Cianferano, and several current and former inspectors have been subpoenaed by the grand jury that has been investigating the agency.
Also scheduled for this week is a Court of Special Appeals hearing on a suit in which a former employee has charged political interference in the operations of the board and that inspectors were forced to sell tickets for political fund-raisers.
The suit, filed by former liquor license board inspector Marion Turner, will be heard tomorrow in Annapolis. Turner has charged that she was wrongfully terminated, at the behest of Larry Young, then a state senator, because of her refusal to "perform an act that would have been illegal."
Turner's lawyers are asking the court to overturn the June 16 ruling in which Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani threw out her suit.
The new law grants substantial pay increases by permanently linking the salaries of liquor board employees to those paid to specified categories of Baltimore city employees.
Liquor inspectors, for instance, will automatically be placed in a city pay grade with salaries ranging from $22,369 to $26,587. Inspectors now make $18,111. That means an increase of at least $4,258 a year, or 23.5 percent.
The pay for the chief inspector's job held by Cianferano will rise from $30,632 to a new minimum of $34,000 under the bills, and his job, like those of inspectors, will be placed under the civil service system.
Nathan C. Irby Jr., the liquor board's executive secretary, said most inspectors will be placed at the bottom of the new pay grade but that, with board approval, larger increases based on experience are possible.
Irby said the three-member board had recommended the pay raises with a number of other initiatives. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. McFadden did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.
Joseph Bryce, chief legislative aide to Glendening, said the pay raise bill was one of dozens of local government bills approved last week. He said no questions or objections were raised, although the state attorney general's office expressed concern about the wording of one phrase.
"This is a recognition that the liquor license board is no longer operating under a patronage system," said Irby, adding that the new salary schedules will bring the staff into line with employees of other city agencies. He said the new pay levels were determined by analyzing similar jobs within the city system.
He said that before seeking the pay raises, the commissioners identified increased revenues that would be used to defray the added costs. The funding will come from an increase in fees for services performed by the board, such as the administrative fee for some hearings.
He said the increases were designed to minimize the impact on current license holders.
"You never propose a raise unless you can pay for it," said Irby, adding that the new salary schedules are intended to "bring us into line with the 21st century. We're trying to change the whole image of this place and also remove any potential for mischief."
He said that in return for the increased pay, board employees will be expected to embrace the board's goal of becoming more responsive to concerns of licensees and neighborhood groups.
State Sen. George W. Della Jr., who cast the lone vote against the pay bill in the Senate, said he did so because he opposed the original proposal, approved last year, that placed some liquor board employees under civil service. Under the old system, he said, problem employees could be dealt with more easily.
Della, a Baltimore Democrat, noted that the new law leaves many part-time liquor board employees under the old system.
Irby said the size of the pay increases might be viewed as excessive under normal circumstances but is justified by the change of status of the board employees. He said it is a one-time adjustment.
The salaries for Irby and his deputy were raised to $59,000 and $54,200, respectively, last year.
Pub Date: 5/05/98