Same Problems, Different Entity In Worcester

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The 2014 Maryland Gubernatorial Election is still two-plus years away, but Comptroller Peter Franchot’s frank talk and blunt approach have put him out in the forefront in the early going.

Franchot, the two-term tax collector, will be running for governor in a couple years, although he has not announced it officially yet. It will more than likely be Franchot and current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown squaring off for the Democratic nomination and it’s possible current Attorney General Doug Gansler may also be in the mix.

Clearly, Franchot has been positioning himself for a run. Whether this week’s letter to Worcester County regarding last year’s purchase of $175,000 worth of alcohol from Alabama has anything to do with those aspirations is unknown, but clearly Franchot is miffed at the county for the “illegal” transaction,  albeit the good intentions reportedly surrounding it.
“I also take offense by the inference that your actions, however illegal, are acceptable simply because they would result in a cost savings for your customers. Frankly, I would expect an agency of county government to recognize that we cannot choose the laws we wish to observe and the ones we don’t,” he wrote. “… In this instance, an agency of county government that was created to change the culture established by the Worcester County Liquor Control Board has chosen to mimic its predecessor. It is my hope that an incident of this nature will not happen again, and that this will prove to be an aberration and not a trend.”

What’s going to happen now?

More than likely nothing, as the county is shipping the booze back to Alabama, and will reportedly be reimbursed. Whether the money could be recouped had been in doubt until this week.

There are a number of unknowns with this situation, mostly because the county has been largely mum since Franchot’s letter was circulated. We will learn of the county’s plans at next week’s meeting.

Insiders say the county is contemplating fighting the comptroller on this matter, believing it could have legal favor in this case as a result of ambiguous wording in the legislation.

The situation could hinge on the word “any” and the fact, as the county may maintain, it does not address whether the provider or seller of the booze must have a license or permit to make the transaction legal. However, in advance of that legal argument, Franchot called it “preposterous” for the county to think it could purchase from an entity not legally permitted to distribute spirits in Maryland.

If the count decides to fight the matter, and we would hope it does not at this time, it will cost money and that should concern a public that’s already bracing for tax and fee increases from its governments, from the town and county levels to the state and federal.

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