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Liquor board dispute erupts into public view
A behind-the-scenes power struggle between members of Baltimore's liquor board flared into the open yesterday when two commissioners called for punitive sanctions against the chairman and an investigation into corruption accusations leveled against them by the chief liquor inspector.
Claudia L. Brown and John A. Green Sr., members of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, voted in a closed-door session Thursday to reprimand chairman Mark S. Fosler for failing to adhere to board rules and include them in certain decisions, such as recent raids on bars where illegal gambling took place.
Yesterday, they aired their grievances and scolded Fosler for intervening on behalf of chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr., who was suspended for investigating illegal gambling without board approval and discussing the raids with a reporter.
Fosler asked for a delay on the suspension until the board could get legal advice, but other board members overruled him and the suspension went into effect March 21.
Charges at issue
"Everybody needs to know what is really going on," said Brown. "Responsible people have been irresponsibly charged with illegal and unethical behavior. It is simply not true."
In court documents filed in response to his suspension, Daniels has accused Brown and Green of political collusion and corruption. He accused them of favoring certain bars and trying to replace him with assistant chief liquor inspector Vernon "Tim" Conway, the husband of state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, whose district includes The Block.
Daniels has made similar allegations against board executive secretary Nathan C. Irby Jr. and board attorney Jane M. Schroeder. Irby and Schroeder have declined requests for comment.
"The board has been accused of being corrupt and these are very serious charges," Green said. "That is why we have voted to have the matter investigated."
Green and Brown took up the issue at an executive session Thursday at City Hall, but refused to discuss the meeting with The Sun at that time.
In interviews yesterday, Fosler said he had no advance warning that the meeting would be held, and that he excused himself to seek legal advice.
Fosler said that by the time he returned, Brown and Green had voted on a handful of motions, many of them directed at him or Daniels.
Fosler said he voted on two motions, including one to request an investigation by the state prosecutor, whose job it is to review charges of misconduct by public officials. He also voted on a motion that his professional relationship with Daniels be investigated by the city's Ethics Commission.
"I have nothing to hide," he said.
The chairman said his efforts to enforce the city's liquor laws, including the use of investigations and raids, had upset Brown and Green.
Questioning of city statute
Fosler defended his actions regarding Daniels and questioned the city statute that defines the powers of the liquor board chairman. Recent opinions by the attorney general's office have also noted that language in the statute needs clarification.
"All I wanted to do was shine a flashlight into some of the shadowy areas to see if there were any illegal activities," Fosler said. "And now someone wants to take away the batteries."
Daniels, who returned to work Wednesday after a month without pay, has yet to receive notice of a court hearing on his complaint. Meanwhile, he has filed a separate grievance with the liquor board, said his attorney Arthur Frank of Baltimore. The grievance will most likely be heard by the city's labor commission.
Speaking for his client, Frank said yesterday that he was pleased the liquor board was seeking an investigation into the allegations of corruption and political collusion. He said he had advised Daniels to not speak to the news media for fear that board members would use it as an excuse to dismiss him. On his return to work this week, Daniels was placed on six months probation.
"Any kind of investigation like that is very welcome," Frank said. "For the board the best defense might be a good offense. This could be an effort to deflect attention from themselves."
Correction: An article in yesterday's editions about Baltimore's liquor board erroneously said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway's district includes The Block. Conway represents the 43rd District, which is north of downtown Baltimore.
The Sun regrets the error.