Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist yesterday asked the County Council to oversee a new investigation of the liquor control board, saying that he was bewildered and upset by charges that he had interfered in the work of an earlier investigation.
"I feel a responsibility to get out of this," Gilchrist told the council. "Maybe you would like to take the heat for awhile."
Gilchrist became caught up in the liquor board controvesy last month when a consultant he had hired issued a report charging that the agency had shown favoritism in buying liquor from Schenley Industries Inc., a firm with close ties to past and present members of the liquor board and to the Gilchrist administration.
After the report came out, the consultant, Leonard I. Colodny, expressed frustration with Gilchrist's reception of his findings. Colodny charged that some of Gilchrist's aides had asked him to "rethink" his numbers showing a pattern of favoritism to Schenley. He asked Gilchrist to release him from his contract. Gilchrist refused at first, then decided to fire Colodny.
While firing Colodny, Gilchrist announced that he would hire another outside consultant to study the actions of the liquor control board, which is the only county-run agency in the nation that controls the wholesale and retail of liquor, wine and beer.
Gilchrist expressed hope at the time that the issue would die down, but it did not. New headlines appeared in the county papers each week on what was dubbed "Liquorgate," with stories detailing Gilchrist's close relationship to Charles Buscher, who at various times served as head of the liquor agency, a vice-presideint of Schenley and an adviser to the county executive.
At yesterday's meeting, Gilchrist and several council members repeatedly remarked about the need to correct what they feared was a growing public perception that Montgomery County might not be as clean as its reputation.
Council President Scott Fosler said he thought it might be wise for the council to name the new consulting firm. "The problem is perceptions," Fosler said. "Even if there is nothing untoward happening, even if management is good, there has to be a perception, a statement that assures everyone of that."