Tag Archives: liquor monopoly

The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we listed posts 11 through 20 in terms of page views for the year 2020. Here are the top ten.

  1. Volcano in Rockville

In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.

  1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.

  1. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
  2. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
  3. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”

It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.

  1. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.

  1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.

  1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.

On to 2021!

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Dorfman Out at Liquor Monopoly

By Adam Pagnucco.

According to a mass email sent by Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Fariba Kassiri, Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS) Director Bob Dorfman is leaving his position effective today. The email is reprinted below.

*****

Subject Line: Bob Dorfman/Acting ABS Director

From: Kassiri, Fariba
Sent: Monday, December 14 2020
To: #ABS All
Cc: #MCG.Department and Office Directors; #MCG.SeniorEAAContacts; #MCG.Legislative Branch Directors

ABS Employees,

Effective today, Bob Dorfman will be moving on from his position as Director of Alcohol Beverage Services. On behalf of the County Executive, I want to thank Bob for his 4 years of service to Montgomery County Government and acknowledge his significant accomplishments during that time. ABS would not be the success it is today without his leadership and vision. I thank him for his many contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors.

Kathie Durbin will be Acting ABS Director until a permanent director is appointed.

*****

It’s difficult to describe just how badly the liquor monopoly was doing when Dorfman, a former Mariott executive, was hired to run it four years ago. The monopoly had suffered critical delivery outages in the week between Christmas and New Year’s two years in a row. It was riddled with crime and abuse, with employees skimming booze and selling it for cash, driving drunk in county trucks and running the warehouse with sticky notes. Licensees were so upset at the monopoly’s failures, especially with regards to special orders, that Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) introduced a bill to allow county voters to end it. (I organized a coalition to support Frick’s bill.)

Dorfman’s success was to do what prior leaders had promised to do for years: run the organization like a business. Even some of the monopoly’s harshest critics conceded that, under Dorfman, the department’s delivery accuracy and service improved. Special orders were still an issue but there were no more week-long outages during holiday periods. Dorfman’s performance was good enough that pressure to abolish the monopoly eased off, at least for a little while. One caveat: Dorfman’s pursuit of the bottom line was great for the monopoly but not always for licensees. He instituted a new bottle fee for licensees at county liquor stores and blocked reform passed by the General Assembly to allow private stores to sell spirits.

Dorfman was also an aggressive defender of his organization, going after both Council Member Hans Riemer and Seventh State founder David Lublin in public. When Riemer found out that county liquor stores were losing money and suggested shutting them down, Dorfman called him “ill informed” and said he “obviously doesn’t care much” about county employees. No other department head has said such things about a sitting Council Member in recent memory!

Departing department directors often take extended departures, with their last days scheduled for weeks or months after their announcements. That’s not the case with Dorfman, who is out effective today. That makes me wonder whether he is leaving on good terms with the administration. In any case, his example offers a lesson: if the county wants the liquor monopoly to perform like a business, it has to hire someone to run it who knows how to run a business. Dorfman was that guy. We shall see if County Executive Marc Elrich heeds that lesson when hiring Dorfman’s successor.

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Liquor Monopoly Truck Crashes in Aspen Hill (Updated)

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, a delivery truck operated by MoCo’s liquor monopoly crashed in Aspen Hill. The crash occurred on Connecticut Avenue near the intersection with Georgia Avenue, shutting down southbound traffic and sending countless cases of liquor splattering across multiple road lanes.

The first indication of the crash was this set of pictures posted on Facebook by a person who came across the crash scene.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Spokesman Pete Piringer tweeted three times about the crash.

Here are close-ups of the four pictures tweeted by Piringer.

NBC Chopper 4 reporter Brad Freitas posted video of the aftermath on Twitter.

From Piringer’s reporting, what is known right now is that there were two occupants of the truck, both of whom were transported away by ambulance, and that the driver was trapped and had to be extricated from the truck. Traffic was completely shut down on southbound Connecticut Avenue and limited to one lane northbound. The mess will take some time to clear.

At this time, the cause of the accident is unknown.

Update: NBC4 has video of how this crash affected seven lanes of traffic.

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Top Seventh State Stories, March 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in March ranked by page views.

1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?
2. Liquor Monopoly Ends Takeout Cocktail Ban
3. Montgomery Leads Maryland in Social Distancing
4. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Two
5. Is This the Worst Communications Debacle in County History?
6. Is This Moving into the 21st Century?
7. In MoCo, Public Media are Replacing Private Media
8. Everyone Can Vote Absentee
9. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part One
10. The County Budget is in Crisis. What Now?

Of interest is the fact that three of these stories concern the liquor monopoly. The top post – What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders? – is, as of this writing, one of the top ten most-viewed posts in the history of Seventh State.

Most MoCo politicians don’t like talking about the liquor monopoly. Many of them admit that it is inefficient and archaic in private, but they don’t want to give up its revenues and they worry about offending the union that represents its employees. Our site traffic indicates that Seventh State readers care a lot about this topic and some of our liquor monopoly posts really pop. Politicians who get out front on this will benefit.

More top posts are coming next month!

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Riemer Proposes Liquor Monopoly Payment Holiday

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Hans Riemer has proposed that liquor licensees be allowed to defer payments owed to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS). Specifically, Riemer wrote, “I am writing to request that ABS allow restaurant licensees to defer payments or make partial payments on all products purchased from ABS for the next 12 months.” Riemer notes the extreme financial losses being experienced by licensees and suggests that the county “explore options that could allow the County to smooth the revenue impact of this proposal over a longer period of time.”

We reprint Riemer’s letter below. We intend to print the executive’s response when we receive it.

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Liquor Monopoly Ends Takeout Cocktail Ban

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Members Andrew Friedson and Evan Glass have announced that the liquor monopoly has ended its ban on takeout cocktails.

Friedson announced the news on Twitter.

Glass announced it on Facebook.

The official announcement from Alcohol Beverage Services appears below.

And here is a link to the application form for licensees.

Thank you to Council Members Friedson and Glass, Comptroller Peter Franchot and everyone else who worked to turn this around!

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Franchot Blasts Liquor Monopoly

By Adam Pagnucco.

After reading our post on the county liquor monopoly’s takeout cocktail ban, Comptroller Peter Franchot has come out swinging against the monopoly.  The Comptroller wrote on his Facebook page:

As your Comptroller and as a Montgomery County resident, this story makes me viscerally frustrated. There is no constructive purpose served by the continued existence of our government-run alcohol monopoly. It is inefficient, costly and unresponsive to the needs of its customers.

Now, at a time when our restaurants, bars and taverns are looking at possible financial ruin as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are fighting a daily battle simply to survive, we get this tone-deaf ruling from the Department of Liquor Control. By prohibiting the sale of liquor and mixed drinks for carryout and home delivery, the DLC is acting in violation of both Governor Hogan’s Executive Order and a basic standard of common sense.

If there ever was a time for an outdated government agency to flaunt its administrative prerogatives, this certainly isn’t it. Hoping the DLC will reverse this ruling and do everything it possibly can to support our local, community-based businesses. Or, failing that, at least get out of the way while the rest of us help them #KeepTheLightsOn.

Franchot even took out a Facebook ad for this post.  At the moment, his post has 116 reactions, 40 comments and – most critically – 27 shares.  The original blog post has been shared countless more times across Facebook.

With outrage growing against the monopoly, it must lift the ban or face a renewed push to abolish it.

What will it do?

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What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Battered by shutdowns of dine-in service, restaurants across Maryland and beyond are taking a severe beating.  As a measure of modest compensation, Governor Larry Hogan has allowed restaurants and bars to engage in something unprecedented: takeout and delivery service of alcohol.  That partly applies in MoCo too, but there is a holdup.

The county liquor monopoly.

The monopoly has approved takeout and delivery of beer and wine but not of cocktails and other spirits-related products.  Meanwhile, California, New York, Florida, Colorado, Vermont, Iowa and the District of Columbia allow takeout and/or delivery of cocktails, although they often require them to be offered in sealed containers and only with food.  Governor Hogan’s executive order allows takeout and delivery of spirits too but that is subject to additional restrictions imposed by local jurisdictions.  The City of Baltimore has chosen to allow takeout and delivery of cocktails.  MoCo has not.  Its grant of takeout and delivery authority explicitly says, “This permission does not include liquor.”

Nepenthe Brewing Company in Baltimore advertises takeout cocktails.

The liquor monopoly enjoys a retail monopoly on spirits sales and jealously protects it.  For example, after the General Assembly passed a law three years ago allowing the monopoly to contract with private stores to sell spirits, the monopoly simply refused to enter into any such contracts.  Loosening its retail spirits sales monopoly might damage its profits, which are the only reason it continues to exist.  (Profits are no problem at the moment as the monopoly’s business is booming while folks are stocking up.)

The issue matters because it affects the employment of a key category of personnel in the restaurant industry: bartenders.  Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that MoCo and Frederick establishments together employed 1,410 bartenders in 2017, so at least 1,000 of them work in MoCo owing to the comparative size of the counties.  The two counties employed an additional 2,680 people classified as “dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers.”  When takeout and delivery is restricted to beer and wine, bartenders are not needed because anyone can handle bottles and cans.  But when spirits beverages are allowed, bartenders are necessary.

Clavel Mezcaleria – Taqueria in Baltimore has an online menu of pre-bottled cocktails.

One restaurant owner who contacted me put MoCo’s cocktail ban in economic terms.  “Maryland allows it.  Montgomery County does not.  Baltimore can sell a margarita to go.  We cannot.  That’s my point. The DLC [liquor monopoly] restricts us again.  If they allowed it I could keep some of my staff employed instead of on the unemployment line.”

So what’s more important?  The continued employment of a thousand MoCo bartenders?  Or the liquor monopoly’s long-time retail spirits monopoly?  County officials, you decide.

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Is This Moving Into the 21st Century?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has announced that he is “focused on building a 21st century economy that will help the County maintain its leadership position in the State, while being more competitive in the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.”  And how will that be done?

By marketing the county’s 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly, of course!

The county’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS), formerly known as the Department of Liquor Control, has a monopoly on wholesale distribution of alcohol from which only small, local craft breweries and distilleries are exempt.  Through its county liquor stores, ABS also has a monopoly on off-premises retail sales of spirits.  This structure has been in place since the end of prohibition.

The original purpose of the liquor monopoly was to “control certain obnoxious practices” and “keep the county an attractive place to live.”  Now, however, the purpose of the monopoly is to make money.  During the current fiscal year, ABS is projected to contribute $28 million to the general fund and an additional $9 million to pay off county debt service.  Despite its overall profitability, ABS is under heavy pressure to make even more money for four primary reasons.

First, the county projected a $100 million revenue shortfall back in December.  It’s unknown whether that number will change when the executive’s recommended budget is released next month, but if there is a shortfall of close to that amount, that’s a problem.

Second, the county has been raiding its retiree health care fund to balance its budget in recent years.  A statement by Wall Street credit agency Moody’s warned the county to stop doing that.  If the county takes heed, how will it replace that money?

Third, the county council clearly has no appetite for tax increases at the moment.

Fourth, Council Member Hans Riemer recently revealed that the county liquor stores as a group are actually losing money, not making it.  That prompted an explosive reaction from ABS Director Bob Dorfman amid questions about whether the stores should continue operations.

An excerpt from an email by the county executive calling for a 21st Century economy and simultaneously promoting the liquor monopoly.

ABS has now proposed a solution for increasing the stores’ profitability: it wants to rebrand them.  In a council session on February 20, the council reviewed a letter from the county attorney asking for permission to hire outside counsel specializing in trademarks to secure a new name.  The county’s chief administrative officer told the council that the specific name being considered is “Cork and Barrel,” which a simple Google search confirms is widely used around the country (including in Maryland).  The initial outlay to the trademark attorney is expected to be less than $6,000.  But if ABS does go through with a name change, there will be many additional expenses for logo design and changes to facilities and equipment.  Last summer, when water and sewer utility WSSC proposed a name change, the projected expenses totaled $850,000.  Council Member Evan Glass raised the experience of WSSC and said, “If a government monopoly or a quasi-government monopoly needs a marketing and outreach strategy then there is a problem.”

Three council members – Riemer, Glass and Andrew Friedson – voted against the appointment of counsel.  Friedson and Glass have gone on record in opposition to the liquor monopoly.  Riemer thinks it is time for the county to close its retail liquor stores.  The rest of the council voted in favor of hiring outside counsel.

The county council has almost no power to control the liquor monopoly under state law.  But the General Assembly does and its vision for the monopoly is very different from the Elrich administration’s.  In 2017, the General Assembly passed a state law enabling the monopoly to contract with private stores to allow them to sell spirits.  (Right now, only county liquor stores may sell hard alcohol – a crucial advantage for the county.)  But ABS has ignored the law’s intent and has so far refused to allow private retail sales of spirits.  Its rationale is understandable: without its retail spirits monopoly, its stores might never be profitable.  No dissenting votes were cast in Annapolis against the law that the monopoly now flouts.  Will MoCo’s state legislators hold it accountable?

As for the name change and marketing expenses, consider this.  State law requires private beer and wine stores to purchase products from the county liquor monopoly’s wholesale operation.  Their payments will now be used to rebrand and market the county liquor stores that are in direct competition with them.  In essence, they will be required to pay for the county’s attempt to raid their market share and take away their business.

How is this a legitimate function of government?

How can Montgomery County do this and claim that it is business friendly??

MoCo faces a choice.  It can move into the 21st Century and allow competition.  Or it can have a 1930s-era soviet liquor monopoly.

It can’t do both.

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MoCo Political Awards 2019

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2019 is in the books and it’s time for some political awards, both good and bad.  Buckle up!

Best Freshman Elected Official (County): District 1 Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson

Let’s go to the lab and create the perfect politician.  We shall start with brains and policy experience.  The person has to be a life-long district resident who roams it constantly, addressing issues large and small.  The person has to hire good staff.  The person has to have the guts to vote no when everyone else votes yes.  Fiscal expertise counts too.  Add it all up and we just created Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson, the new star of the county council.  As a freshman, Friedson is still at the beginning of his elected career.  But his ability is off the charts and the Real Deal has just begun living up to his nickname.

Best Freshman Elected Official (State): District 18 Delegate Jared Solomon

True story: when candidate Jared Solomon was running for a seat in the statehouse, he was one of the very few politicians ever who mailed me a hand-written thank-you letter after our introductory interview.  Since then, he has become an energetic and conscientious Delegate who jumped feet-first into his district’s two biggest issues: the Beltway project and school construction.  Solomon is both one of the smartest people in the room and one of the nicest.  That’s hard to pull off for anyone not named Jamie Raskin.

Reporter of the Year: Caitlynn Peetz, Bethesda Beat

You might think that news on public schools is boring.  If so, you have never read Caitlynn Peetz’s riveting stories on the rapes at Damascus High School and parental clashes over MCPS’s boundary study.  Peetz loves her vocation and it shows.  She digs deeper and works harder than just about anyone else in local media.  She also happens to be a kind, generous and funny person.  How does someone like that wind up in the press?

Will Not Fade Away Award: Brandy Brooks

Most of the county council candidates who did not win in 2018 have faded from the public eye, at least for now.  Not Brandy Brooks.  She maintained her profile with a strong, though unsuccessful, run for planning board and has retained a loyal following among many county progressives.  Last year, I predicted that Brooks would have a great chance to win if she ever runs again and I am now more confident of that than ever.

Most Meaningless New Law of the Year: Liquor Monopoly Name Change

As of July, the county’s Department of Liquor Control was renamed Alcohol Beverage Services.  Does anyone care?  Aside from whatever companies were paid to change the name on the signs and business cards, the answer is a big fat NO.

Whiplash Award #1

In November, the council voted in favor of a bill mandating 30-hour work weeks for some janitors that its own staff predicted would “likely” kill building services jobs.  Two weeks later, the council passed a resolution calling for a renewed commitment to economic development.

Whiplash Award #2

Also in November, the council unanimously passed a new law mandating consideration of racial equity in all county activities.  A week later, the council voted to give $500,000 in tax money to a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation.

Labor Union of the Year: MCGEO

How do you get a 6% raise?  You jump up and down and demand a 9% raise, and then when you get 6%, you grudgingly accept it and resolve to come back for the rest later.  2019 will go down as yet another year when MCGEO proved its immense value to its members.

Activists of the Year: YIMBYs

In most years, Council Member Hans Riemer’s bill to liberalize restrictions on accessory dwelling units would have encountered rough sledding and maybe outright defeat.  Not in 2019, as MoCo’s YIMBYs – the acronym stands for “yes in my backyard” – sprang into action and helped get the bill passed.  YIMBYs, unlike NIMBYs, believe MoCo needs more housing and they have emerged as one of the county’s more effective, albeit loosely organized, issue groups.  Additionally, the YIMBY MoCo Facebook page has become one of the most interesting venues for policy and political discussions in the county.  If the YIMBYs get more numerous and better organized, they could have a real impact on the next county election.

Do Not Mess with Me Award: Bob Dorfman

When Council Member Hans Riemer released information showing that county liquor stores were losing money, Alcohol Beverage Services Director Bob Dorfman blew him to smithereens.  Read this quote from WUSA Channel 9 but hide the children first!

“We have an ill-informed councilmember who has got a politically motivated campaign that’s taking something purely out of context because he as a councilmember should have been smart enough to know that a plan had already been put in place almost a year ago that addresses each of the components of the loss,” Alcohol Beverage Services Director Robert Dorfman said.

Dorfman said the county has already cut the stores’ losses by $2-million a year, and hopes they’ll turn a $5-million dollar profit within a few years.

He said Riemer was needlessly panicking employees who work at the stores. “Mr. Riemer, by putting out all this stuff to the press, is causing those employees, hard-working, good, county employees, that he supposedly represents, obviously he’s not doing it very well, obviously he doesn’t care much, those employees are getting calls from customers and family members asking them whether they’re going to have jobs,” Dorfman said.

This is not the first time Dorfman has slammed a liquor monopoly critic.  He once went after Seventh State founder David Lublin too.  All of this has me feeling jealous.  I’m one of the fiercest opponents of the liquor monopoly around and I have written countless columns denouncing it.  What do I have to do to get you to spank me, Bob?

Retirement of the Year: Glenn Orlin

Former county council deputy staff director Glenn Orlin is one of the great heroes of county government who is unknown by much of the general public.  In a decades-long career in both the state and county governments, Glenn has become one of the foremost experts on capital budgets and transportation in all of Maryland.  The council relied on his incredible institutional knowledge, his expertise and his good judgment as much as any other single staff member.  What makes Glenn truly great is not just his competence and experience, but his patience, generosity and ability to teach others.  His legacy includes a huge portfolio of transportation projects, including his beloved Purple Line, as well as generations of folks who have learned from him – including me.  Glenn is still doing contract work for the council, but whoever eventually succeeds him will have very big shoes to fill.

That’s all until next year!

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