In the wake of the bribery conviction of Frederick County's sole liquor commissioner, Democratic delegates to the Maryland legislature plan to sponsor legislation replacing the commissioner position with a three-member liquor board, which would bring Frederick into conformance with other Maryland counties.
The Frederick County delegates want the power of appointment to remain with them and the governor.
But members of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners want the law changed so that they can appoint three liquor commissioners and hire two inspectors to oversee Frederick's 237 liquor-selling establishments.
Board President Galen Clagett contends that the delegates' bill will do nothing to lessen the political nature of the current system, because the governor would continue to appoint liquor board members from a list supplied by the state's Democratic and Republican central committees.
"Two years ago, we asked them to get rid of the 'czar' system we have, but the delegates blocked us," Clagett said. "Our point is, we pay the tab for administering the program but get no say in who holds the job."
Former liquor commissioner Thomas Edward Joy pleaded guilty to bribery charges Oct. 3, the day after he resigned his post.
The investigation that led to Joy's conviction began in January, when tavern owner Dean Leroy Thomas told the Maryland Attorney General's office that Joy had offered to overlook portions of the county liquor law if Thomas would pay him $200 a week.
Frederick County is the only county in Maryland that still places all licensing and enforcement authority with a single liquor commissioner. "Our system is a hangover from the '20s and '40s," Clagett said. "It's just ripe for this type of corruption."
In Frederick, where the number of stores and taverns selling alcoholic beverages has grown by 60 in the past two years, only licenses for restaurants and hotels are issued, meaning that meals have to be served by all tavern-like establishments that sell hard liquor by the drink.
Thomas, who had allowed the state to tap his telephone, complained in recorded conversations with Joy that compliance with the law -- which requires him to serve two hot meals a day -- was too costly, according to transcripts read during Joy's court hearing.
According to court documents, Joy suggested in subsequent conversations at Thomas' Market Street establishment, The Southern, that Thomas fire his cook, buy a microwave oven and use frozen food as a way to cut costs and satisfy the law.
When Thomas complained that $200 a week was "a little steep" to buy Joy's legal interpretation, according to court documents, Joy said, "Not for what you're saving. . . . I ain't trying to bleed you."
Based on allegations that he had accepted two payments of $400 each, Joy was charged in January with two counts of bribery, two counts of misconduct in office and two counts of extortion. All but one of the bribery charges were later dropped.
Joy, who had only been commissioner since May 1983, is to be sentenced Nov. 28.
When Joy resigned, Democrats and Gov. Harry Hughes moved quickly to fill his position, and last week Louis V. Meyers Jr. took over the $3,600-a-year job.
At 67, Louis is no stranger to liquor enforcement. He served as commissioner for eight years under the late governor Millard Tawes and then was the Frederick's sole liquor inspector until he retired in September, just one month before he was again tapped for the commissioner's job.