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Liquor Issues

by Danielle Sweeney2:16 pmJan 10, 20150

Still saddled with paper records, Liquor Board asked for audit extension

Executive secretary requested delay because “many of our processes remain paper based”

Above: Reform at the Baltimore Liquor Board is a work in progress.

While the Liquor Board became a more engaged and accountable agency in 2014, new staff and appointments have only taken the agency so far in achieving its reform goals.

That’s one conclusion from Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth’s report to the state joint audit committee, in which she asked for a one-year audit extension.

Bailey-Hedgepeth, the board’s executive secretary, told the committee in a letter that “issues that are tied to automation improvements are still under way and will not be completed until summer 2015.”

She requested that the audit – scheduled for October of 2014, but delayed – be further postponed until October 2015 “because many of our processes remain paper-based.”

On December 9, Bailey-Hedgepeth presented the committee with a progress report detailing her reasons for requesting the delay. She told The Brew in a later interview that her agency needed more time to get “computer upgrades in place.”

Most Goals “in Progress”

The progress report indicates that the board has completed 9 of its 24 reform goals. The remainder were “in progress.”

Asked to comment on the board’s progress, Rebecca Lundberg Witt, an attorney with the Community Law Center, and the center’s Booze News blogger, said she was “underwhelmed.”

“I think it’s amazing that they have only completed [a small number] of the 24 goals. It’s been almost two years,” Witt said, referring to the highly critical March 2013 audit released by the Department of Legislative Services. That report characterized the agency as technologically backward, opaque, and lacking procedures to function properly.

Witt characterized the progress since then as modest.

“It’s really the minimal of what you would expect at this point,” she said, adding “Michelle, however, has only been in place since June.”

Bailey-Hedgepeth has led the implementation of the reforms, and only last month hired a deputy executive secretary and new chief inspector.

“I think the board’s staffing issues have caused the biggest delay,” Witt said.

On Track to Digitize, Post Records By Summer?

Bailey-Hedgepeth maintains that the board is still on track to meet its state-mandated goal of digitizing all its records and posting them online by July 1 of 2015.

The board is “working toward the July deadline with the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology,” she said.

Witt said not all Maryland counties’ liquor boards are fully digitized, but she knows that “Baltimore County has been way ahead of Baltimore City for some time.”

In fact, the board has yet to post a copy of the progress report on its web site. Bailey-Hedgepeth says with the site’s current format, there is no place to put it.

Nor does it post the outcomes of its hearings, or have a Facebook or Twitter account. (The previous chairman, Stephan W. Fogleman, tweeted hearing results from his personal account.) The city’s cable 25 CharmTV has been regularly posting videos of Liquor Board hearings.

Bailey-Hedgepeth promises that the board will soon be making progress on the technology front. “We will have a new web page with a section devoted to the audit, as well as details on our progress.”

In the meantime, copies of the audit progress report are available by calling the Liquor Board at (410) 396-4377.

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