Baltimore liquor board executive no longer with agency, chairman says

Baltimore City liquor board executive no longer with agency, board chairman says.

The Baltimore liquor board's top official is no longer with the agency, according to the board chairman.

Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, who was named the first woman to head the city's liquor board as executive secretary in April 2014, left Thursday, board chairman Benjamin Neil said Friday.

"All I can say, it's an employee matter," Neil said. He confirmed "she is not" an employee of the liquor board but declined to comment further.

A message left for Bailey-Hedgepeth was not returned Friday.

Neil said the commissioners will have to pick a replacement, but he did not know when a decision would be made.

Bailey-Hedgepeth previously served as the town administrator of Capitol Heights in Prince George's County before coming to Baltimore. She was hired to reform the board after a state audit revealed a lax work ethic and spotty enforcement. She replaced longtime executive secretary Samuel T. Daniels Jr.

Bailey-Hedgepeth earned a salary of $93,700 last year, according to city records.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore City Democrat, said he heard last night Bailey-Hedgepeth had been dismissed and called it "crazy."

"On its face, it seems shady to me," he said.

Ferguson said Bailey-Hedgepeth came in after the state Senate passed liquor board reform legislation in 2013 and was highly regarded.

"I got along with her very well," he said.

Rebecca Lundberg Witt, an attorney with the nonprofit Community Law Center, which monitors the board, praised Bailey-Hedgepeth's work.

"I did not always agree with her, but she was extremely responsive, which was really helpful to communities," Witt said. "You would ask her for some document or piece of information and she would get back to you right away."

Witt said the ongoing conflict between the Senate and the Hogan administration over the board was likely a factor. The Senate refused to confirm the liquor board commissioners — including Neil, Douglas Trotter and Elizabeth Hafey — this month. The commissioners had served since Gov. Larry Hogan appointed them last summer.

Lawmakers have said the commissioners were not confirmed because city residents have said the board has shown favoritism to liquor license holders at the expense of the community.

"[Commissioners] spent a lot of time blaming her for the failures of the board, which I don't think was fair," Witt said. "Maybe it's some way for them to say, this was her fault the whole time."

The General Assembly has passed legislation that would transfer the power to appoint members of the liquor board to Baltimore City Hall if Hogan does not appoint new members before the legislature's annual session ends April 11 at midnight. The governor's office has said Hogan has no intention of submitting new names.

Hogan called the bill "bad policy and bad politics" in a Thursday interview with The Baltimore Sun. He added that the issue wasn't a priority for him.

"The place has been a mess for years," Hogan said of the liquor board. "And frankly, I don't want to be involved in it."

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Michael Dresser and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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