City’s own alcohol licensing plan advanced by council

Salisbury City Council members are advancing a plan for the city to establish its own liquor licensing board, which they said will remove the licensing responsibility in city limits from a county board they see as being too political and lacking transparency.

The move also would allow business owners to get all of their necessary permits in one office. The city has already streamlined the process for taking projects from permitting through completion, but restaurants and stores must still get liquor licenses through the county board.

“This is literally the last thing the city doesn’t control,” Mayor Jake Day said during a Monday evening work council session.

Day said the county’s board also is influenced by elected officials and holds closed door meetings that are probably in violation of Maryland law.

City officials have been considering such a move for a few years and have discussed it with members of the Eastern Shore Delegation, but it became a priority after accusations were made by County Executive Bob Culver over how a liquor license was granted for the National Folk Festival.

Culver said the city and state Comptroller Peter Franchot acted illegally when Franchot’s office granted a license for the festival, bypassing the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners.

Day has said that after city officials perceived the county’s licensing board was dragging its feet on approving a beer and wine license at last year’s event, the city went to Gov. Larry Hogan and then to Franchot whose office ultimately signed off on the license.

City officials have pointed out that most of the alcohol sales in Wicomico County occur within Salisbury city limits, but the city has no voice in how or to whom licenses are granted.

To change that, the city would first need a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow Salisbury to establish its own liquor licensing board.

Delegate Carl Anderton has said he is willing to introduce such a bill on the city’s behalf in the next session of the legislature that starts in January.

Council members on Monday looked at existing liquor licensing ordinances in Wicomico County and in the city of Annapolis, and chose the latter as the model to follow.

Annapolis has had its own licensing board separate from the Anne Arundel County board for years, with members appointed by the mayor. Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners members are political appointments by the governor.

Day said he felt strongly that that members of a city licensing board should serve without compensation.

The mayor also stressed that the city was not seeking to take over the duties of the Wicomico County Liquor Control Board that operates dispensaries and is separate from the Board of License Commissioners that issues licenses to restaurants and for special events such as the National Folk Festival.

The City Council is expected to continue discussions on the topic at its next work session.

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