Handling Ongoing Controversy Delicately

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The County Commissioners raised some eyebrows last week with the way they handled the presentation by the Liquor Control Board for Worcester County.

Although it’s known there was some sort of “play nice” request by county leadership, the commissioners in general let LCB officials off easy with little questioning.

While the LCB has been able in part to explain why their profit margins have plummeted to historic lows in recent years, the county should have questioned them further on why a business model would be followed that’s allowed the finances to look so pathetic for the last couple years. Additionally, how long is will take the LCB to boost profits to respectable levels is surely a reasonable question, and the county needs to know that for budgeting purposes.

Surely, the commissioners are capable of asking some tough questions of these officials, particularly in light of an accusation earlier in the summer that it was they who requested the LCB lower prices for the licensees. That was a huge controversy at the time because the commissioners say that never happened, while LCB officials argued it was the county who instructed them to reduce costs, therefore hurting the bottom line.

We understand there’s a need to conduct a dialogue with some decorum, but the commissioners, like everyone else, should be outraged over the drastic reduction in funding returned to the county and municipalities as well as the confirmed violation of offering different liquor prices to individual licensees.

Instead of challenging what the LCB was reporting, the commissioners, in general, accepted what was said as fact and moved on. After the LCB’s presentation, Commissioner Judy Boggs seemed to sum up the commissioners’ position, saying, “They have fairly and completely answered all the allegations that were printed. This should be a lesson for anyone that jumps to conclusions too quickly.”

It’s worth pointing out the state Comptroller’s Office apparently does not agree with Boggs’ view of matters. Although the Comptroller’s Office probe has not reportedly resulted in a significant “smoking gun,” word is there are a number of issues that need the state’s attention. Specifics of what those charges are will not be known till later in the year, but the fact is the issue is not dead.

Back in August, Franchot called the LCB investigation “one of the most intensive and thorough probes that this office has ever done”. He added, “Our first priority is to protect consumers and help small businesses. We’ve heard a lot of troubling allegations about price discrimination and we’ve got a complete top to bottom, soup to nuts audit and investigation going on. If our investigation says that there is an explanation for all these allegations, we will most certainly report on that, but if it comes back and shows that there was wrongdoing, we will not be bashful in any way.”

When asked this week why they let the LCB off so easily, Commission President Bud Church said it was primarily a result of the state’s probe and the desire to take a wait-and-see approach.

“There’s an ongoing investigation going on, let’s see what comes out of that. Let’s see what the recommendations are, if any, and make some decisions based on what we hear and see,” Church said. “That wasn’t the forum to counter their arguments and get into a knock-down drag-out with them. It could have very easily turned out like that. They took some shots at me and your paper as well, but I just let it go.”

With local officials seemingly shying away from the controversy, the LCB’s future appears to depend entirely on what the state’s probe produces. In the meantime, we all wait.

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