WCLBA, At Minimum, Seeks LCB Leadership Change

OCEAN CITY — It’s clear the liquor licensees ultimately want the Liquor Control Board (LCB) to be abolished, but in the meantime, it appears they are hoping to convince Governor Martin O’Malley to change his mind on LCB Chairman Don Hastings’ recent re-appointment.

On June 21, Governor O’Malley re-appointed Hastings to serve as the head of the county dispensary until May of 2014.  However, based on the fact that Hastings’ appointment is considered to be a “recess appointment”, according to Kim Cisprino, of the Maryland State Appointments’ office, Hastings’ re-appointment is not technically official until a legislative vote when state politicians reconvene in January.

“Not all appointed positions have to have a final vote,” said Cisprino, “but Mr. Hastings’ particular position does, so yes, it won’t be a done deal until that vote, but he has been tentatively appointed.”

As allegations came to the surface over the past two months, the LCB has come under fire, ranging from a state investigation for fraudulent business practices, unfair pricing schemes and possible collusion to an official audit by the Comptroller’s Office.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the Worcester County Licensed Beverage Association (WCLBA) said this week it’s hoping that the governor will reconsider his June appointment of Hastings as the chair of the Worcester LCB.

“We hope that the things that have been brought to light will do all the talking that needs to be done and the governor will reconsider,” said WCLBA President Doug Buxbaum, “but if it doesn’t for whatever reason, we are prepared to make contact with the politicians in Annapolis and state what we think is a very strong case.”

Hastings was removed as the LCB’s official spokesperson in July, as the position was taken over by fellow board member Larry Wilkinson.

The LCB has now taken a stance that it will not speak to any allegations while the state’s audit and investigation are ongoing.

Hastings spoke out last week that the microscope that the LCB has been put under in the last few weeks has been affecting his personal life and has admitted to taking some of the allegations personally.

Liquor licensees who have been outspoken against high markups from the LCB in recent months argue that they are not attacking Hastings personally, just the quasi-governmental monopoly that he has been appointed by the Governor to oversee and operate.

“This isn’t personal against Don Hastings, but it’s obviously being mismanaged down there if you look at the revenues being brought in over the last few years,” said La Hacienda owner Bill Herbst on Wednesday. “He says that we are hurting his family with these allegations, but you know what, we could all say that our families are being hurt by the unfair prices and everything else going on. We have a problem with the system, not him.”

Buxbaum noted that the LCB’s board, including Hastings, doesn’t oversee the day-to-day operations of the county dispensary and may not know all the facts to how the dispensary is operating.

“I don’t think Mr. Hastings is privy to all of the things that are going on down there in Snow Hill,” said Buxbaum. “The board members are admittedly in there once or twice a week, so I don’t even know if he would have known about some of these promotions that have become controversial.”

Time will tell what lies ahead for Hastings and the LCB, but insiders hint that if the state’s investigation finds the LCB to be in violation, or a bill is brought forward to abolish the Worcester County LCB, Hastings appointment could become null and void.

“Obviously, we want the board to go away entirely, but we do believe that if they are to continue, Mr. Hastings shouldn’t be leading the way,” Buxbaum said.