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Senate committee votes to reject Hogan appointments to city liquor board

Three controversial nominations to the Baltimore City Liquor Board have been rejected by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee.

The 14-2 vote Monday evening is the latest in an ongoing battle over the appointments of Benjamin A Neil, Douglas E. Trotter and Elizabeth A. Hafey. The panel took the vote on the same night it decided to further delay the appointment of one appointment to the Public Service Commission.

All three liquor board appointments had been the subject of increased scrutiny and opposition by community groups from around the city as well as the six senators who represent Baltimore City.

“It was almost every community group in Baltimore City,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore and chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said the rejection of the nominations was not about the nominees themselves.

“This process was needlessly politicized from the start,” Mayer said. “The liquor board has had problems for well over a decade. These nominees were sent there to reform the board.”

Conway said she and other senators were concerned because of a lack of community support.

“How could that be?” Mayer said. “(Conway) personally praised Hafey. Why was her bill necessary? It seems to be a lot more about the governor than his appointees.”

Conway, a member of the Executive Nominations Committee, has been one of the more vocal opponents of the appointments but said she believes she has been unfairly portrayed as the only opponent.

“I have one vote and one vote alone,” Conway said. “That’s all I have.”

Conway and the other city senators told the committee two weeks ago that the delegation would nor support Hogan’s three nominations. They panel did support one appointment as an alternate to the board — Harvey E. Jones.

Hogan withdrew the appointment of Jones, who serves as Conway’s campaign treasurer,  despite the committee. Conway hours later introduced a bill that required the governor to submit new appointees by April 12 or forfeit the right to appoint the members. The power to appoint would convey to the mayor and City Council. That bill managed to get a hearing and final Senate approval in the space of a week.

In related news, the committee voted Monday night to recommend Senate confirmation of Jeannette M. Mills to the Public Service Commission but continue to delay a decision on Michael Richard, a deputy chief of staff to Hogan who was appointed to the regulatory commission in January.

Sen, Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery and chairman of the committee, said Richard would be brought back before the committee to answer additional questions regarding 90 pages of emails released under a Maryland Public Information Act Request.

Some lawmakers say the communications raise questions that may need to be answered in a second public hearing while others say they should be a disqualifier.