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Mayor 'frustrated' by liquor board's dysfunction

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she's long been frustrated by the city liquor board's dysfunction and is glad its commissioners are pledging reform.

"It’s frustrating for me, and has been, as a city elected official knowing that the liquor board’s principal positions are patronage positions controlled by the state senators. Historically, they’ve answered very little to the City Council," Rawlings-Blake said after the city's Board of Estimates meeting. "Yet when people call because of a problem at a liquor store, they don’t hold the senators or the state responsible. They’re looking for us to fix it." 

A recent audit uncovered widespread problems with the liquor board, a hybrid state-city agency criticized by current and former workers as a vestige of political patronage. Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, told lawmakers in Annapolis Tuesday that the board was reforming the way it does business after a state audit revealed a lax work ethic and spotty enforcement. 

Auditors found that two workers who were expected to conduct more than 800 inspections of liquor establishments each year instead completed only 41. The board's antiquated paper processing system was so mismanaged that workers resorted to makeshift arrangements.

Since the audit came out, the liquor board has laid off four of its 14 full-time inspectors and asked the city to help computerize its records, officials said. Inspectors have been given heftier workloads and are no longer allowed to work from home. A "work group" of state senators, city representatives and some of Gov. Martin O'Malley's staff has been convened to make sure the problems at the liquor board are resolved. 

Rawlings-Blake said many city residents complain about the lax enforcement of the liquor board, and she hoped the audit would cause change at the agency.

"I have been frustrated personally. The council members have been frustrated. We’ve been pushing and pushing for changes," she said. "My focus is on getting the audit findings remedied. I’m glad there’s a light that’s shining on the problems that I’ve been talking about with our state partners for far too long." 

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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