The Ad Hoc Committee received mixed reviews on its resolution to support reforms of the Department of Liquor Control at a public hearing held on Tuesday.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control recommended that the Council adopt a resolution that would “allow private businesses to sell wholesale ‘special order’ beer and wine in Montgomery County and allow Montgomery County to institute a wholesale distribution fee in the County,” according to a County Council memo.
According to a County Council memo, “allowing the private wholesale distribution of special order beer and wine to County retail licenses will alleviate licensees’ concerns and positively impact their businesses while having the least amount of impact on DLC employees and revenue generated by DLC.”
Several of the supporters of the resolution said that would like to see the full privatization of wholesale distribution and retail sales of alcohol.
Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, said that resolution does not go far enough and needs a more reliable definition of what special-order products are.
“Based on conversations that we’ve had with our member organizations and restaurants and other DLC customers we believe that additionally clarification is necessary in the section that lays out process for DLC to classify items as stock or special order,” said Redicker.
She said the special orders can vary over the year and can move from special order to standard at any time.
The Department of Liquor Control presented its action plan during the Ad Hoc Committee’s most recent work session. The Ad Hoc Committee expressed concern about the action plan and DLC’s ability to alleviate some of its previous problems with the distribution of special-order beer and wine. DLC has had problems with Oracle, a system used to manage inventory.
Edgardo Zuniga, owner and founder of Twin Valley Distillers, said that he could not give really good service with the DLC acting as the middleman between his business and customers.
He said that the DLC takes too long to get products to customers, which in the end affects a lot of restaurants that want the product in a speedy manner.
“I would like to give more customer service to the restaurants, which I can’t do by having a middleman,” said Zuniga.
Paul Rinehart, founder and owner of Baying Hound Aleworks, said that his problem is with the warehouse side of the DLC and not the administration. One of the problems he encountered was that DLC did not have a warehouse that was temperature-controlled. He said a lot of beer would either go missing or explode.
“That tarnished our reputation a little bit. Things got better once (the warehouse) moved to a new location,” said Rinehart.
Supporters of the resolution argued that this will allow them to have better customer service, give their customers their orders in a timely manner and increase the sales of special-order beer and wine in Montgomery County, as well as boosting the number of people who to do business in Montgomery County.
Zuniga said that one of the advantages of working with DLC is the ability to sell to multiple liquor stores throughout the county.
Some of those opposed to the resolution said their main concern was the impact the privatization of special-order beer and wine would have on public safety.
Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, who said that he was against full privatization, also said that safety must be the top priority.
“The safety of our youth and all Montgomery County residents must be the top priority in any considered changes to DLC. Even if privatization garnered in financial or administrative benefits, it will be to the detriment of public safety and potentially people’s lives,” said Stafford.
The opponents of the resolution also expressed concern about the impact the privatization would have on the DLC employees’ jobs.
“For too many years they have lived in fear of losing their good family-supporting jobs; for too many years this has gone on,” said Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994.
Renne said that although he does not support privatization, if it can somehow present more job stability and will end the argument about privatization, he will not oppose it.
Another argument by the opponents was that the better solution would be to just work on fixing the current problems DLC is experiencing.
Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said that the County Council will take the views and opinions presented at the public hearing into consideration before taking any action.