Delegation, County Officials Talk LCB

OCEAN CITY – While the Worcester County Liquor Control Board still hangs in the balance, county officials this week traveled to Annapolis this week to discuss the future of the beleaguered agency.

Two weeks ago, the Worcester County Commissioners heard a proposal from the recently formed Worcester Free Market Alliance to alter or amend the LCB including a possible $2,000 opt out fee allowing liquor license holders to purchase spirits from private sector wholesalers. The LCB, through its attorney, essentially told the commissioners through a letter to the elected officials, an approval of the opt out proposal would cripple the wholesale side of the agency’s operation and ultimately lead to the demise of that division.

The commissioners, at least publicly, withheld any formal opinion on the proposal, buying more time to explore the options on the table. The ball is essentially in the commissioners’ court, although any substantive changes to the quasi-state agency would require legislation approved by the General Assembly. To that end, the commissioners, along with County Administrator Gerald Mason, traveled to Annapolis this week to meet with Senator James Mathias and Delegates Norm Conway and Mike McDermott. While the crux of the conversation is not entirely known and the commissioners have not shown their cards, Mathias said the meeting was productive.

“I was very pleased with the meeting,” he said. “I feel good moving forward, although this is still very much a work in progress. It was a very full discussion, but the Fair Alliance was not there, nor was the LCB.”

Throughout the summer, the LCB came under increased scrutiny, including an extensive audit by the state Comptroller’s Office, into alleged trade violations. When those allegations were confirmed at the completion of the state audit last fall, the LCB all but admitted the violations and agreed to pay a $16,000 fine to avoid further proceedings.

From the beginning, Mathias said he would sponsor legislation to disband, or amend the operations of the LCB.

“This is a matter of significant gravity,” he said. “We’re talking about jobs, lines of credit, assets. I’m a man of my word and if there is a desire for this legislation, I stand ready to move forward in that direction. I’ve made an effort to stay out of the emotional fray and it’s important to remember I am not an advocate for the Alliance, nor am I an advocate for the LCB or the commissioners.”