Legitimate Questions Not Personal

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Liquor
Control Board (LCB) Chairman Donald Hastings got some things off his proverbial
chest at this week’s meeting. Hastings, former spokesman for the board, made it
clear he is unhappy with this paper’s ongoing coverage and specifically went on
the offensive against Staff Writer Bryan Russo.

It’s
not surprising that he is not pleased with the nature of the articles about the
LCB. We, along with the state Comptroller’s Office, have put the LCB under the
microscope and it’s exactly where it belongs. Something is amiss with the LCB,
a monopoly that has control over every drop of liquor sold in this county but
is turning a miserable profit.

In
recent years, the LCB has recorded a steady stream of sales, totaling about $14
million annually. During its last fiscal year, the LCB saw its profit suddenly
plummet compared to previous years. That deserves intense scrutiny. Clearly,
the LCB is either being poorly operated or there is funny business at work.
This newspaper is trying to get to the bottom of why the LCB is suddenly
turning such pathetic numbers. The LCB says it’s because efforts to save
licensees money on their purchases went too far. We find that unlikely.

Hastings,
like anyone else, has every right take umbrage with our coverage and the
controversial nature of the situation. However, at this week’s meeting, he went
after the messenger, singling out Russo in a public meeting and telling how he
was personally impacting his family with the ongoing coverage of the LCB, saying
his reporting lacked “decency”. He even told Russo he had a vendetta against
him, “and I admit it.”
Hastings did not stop there. “How come other people don’t write like that? Some
people have decency,” Hastings said. “I can’t tell you how angry I am at the
things that I have seen that are going in that paper that just are hurting
people, okay? … We don’t like the
throwing stones issues. My family feels terrible about what you’ve put in that
paper, and I don’t know if that could ever be fixed. I don’t like seeing
things like this. We have wives and children …"
Hastings said Russo
and this paper are “sensationalizing things to blatantly destroy them.” Unlike
fellow Board member Larry Wilkinson, the new LCB spokesman who has maintained a
professional tone with Russo despite some pointed and awkward questioning,

Hastings is taking everything incredibly personal, adding, “People are saying that we are bad men because of

your paper."
At the same meeting, LCB Executive Director Brian Sturgeon felt the need to explain
the diatribe by Hastings.

“In defense of Don, the
reason why tempers have flared and emotions have gotten so heated about this
situation is that Don Hastings has established a fantastic reputation in this
community over five decades,” Sturgeon said. “He’s been on the Board of
Education, he’s a business owner, and a family man, in addition to being
someone that’s been appointed by the governor of this state to oversee this
body. To have allegations come out that tarnishes this reputation he’s built
is the reason why emotions are running so high and I can’t blame him for that.”

We
wholeheartedly defend Russo’s coverage of this issue and am appalled by
Hastings’ sensitivity. This paper is dedicating resources to investigate the
dispensary and the flood of accusations facing it. While most of the other
media coverage has been shallow, steering clear of the issues at the heart of
this controversy and even the ongoing investigation by the state, this
newspaper is looking into whether the LCB violated state law and made suspect
moves that ultimately led to the LCB’s shambled financial picture.

The
reporting has been professional and not personal in any way. It’s a shame
Hastings took it to an unnecessary level this week when he admitted to having a
vendetta against our reporter and subsequently this newspaper. His words this
week are further confirmation Gov. Martin O’Malley should reconsider his
appointment to the board, no matter what the future of the LCB holds. 

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