Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III wants to take control of the county’s troubled Board of Liquor Commissioners, assuming responsibility for the appointment of the five-member panel, its chair and the board’s administrator, effectively removing the governor and local senators from the process.
Baker (D) offered an outline late Monday of legislation that will be submitted this week by the county’s House delegation.
The action comes just weeks after two Prince George’s liquor board officials were charged in a long-running federal corruption investigation, resulting in calls for an overhaul of the system.
The legislation would compete with a measure proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and another that was introduced Monday night by the Prince George’s delegation.
“Everyone has been working on how best to move forward,” Baker said Monday. “This is the legislative process. . . . There will be changes to the legislation, and in the end there will be one bill that will come out.”
Under Baker’s proposal, the county executive’s appointments would be subject to confirmation by the Prince George’s County Council. The board members would be required to have public safety, legal or regulatory experience.
Liquor inspectors, now chosen by the board, would become county employees hired by the liquor board administrator and be subject to the county’s ethics laws.
“What I’m proposing is that there is accountability at the local level,” Baker said. “It’s really putting this board in line with the rest of our boards, the Revenue Authority and the Redevelopment Authority.”
In many Maryland jurisdictions, liquor board appointees are recommended to the governor by the local Democratic or Republican Party committee — depending on which party holds a majority of state legislative seats in that county — in conjunction with local state senators. The governor makes the appointments.
The Senate bill, which also applies only to Prince George’s, would remove the governor from the appointment process and require the county executive, after conducting a public hearing, to appoint the members of the county’s Board of License Commissioners. Appointees would require confirmation by the state Senate, and at least one of the five members would have to have public safety, regulatory or business experience.
Commissioners, inspectors and employees of the board would be subject to the county’s ethics laws. The legislation would also effectively remove the board’s current members.
Hogan, who has called the selection of liquor board commissioners one of the “last vestiges of the patronage system,” made his own proposal for changing the process earlier this month as part of his ethics reform package.
The governor proposed removing the party committees from the process in any jurisdictions where he is tasked with making the appointments, and requiring liquor-board nominees to undergo criminal background checks. He also said that liquor-board commissioners would have to adhere to state ethics rules.
The federal probe includes bribery charges against Anuj Sud, a former Prince George’s liquor board commissioner, and David Son, the liquor board’s executive director.
Sud is accused of taking money from a lawyer representing restaurants and liquor stores with business before the Board of Commissioners.
In court filings, law enforcement authorities have indicated that they expect to charge more people in the case.