The Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control sent an apology to the restaurants and stores it supplies with alcohol last week after an error resulted in missed deliveries just before Christmas.
In the letter, the DLC noted that due to a human error it had consolidated five files into a single file, which created a single delivery schedule that resulted in problems with deliveries Dec. 23, 24, 28 and 29. The problem was fixed on Dec. 29, and the DLC said its deliveries before New Year’s Eve were on schedule.
The apology letter, which was signed by DLC director George Griffin, noted that the error created a backlog of deliveries that the department said it would fulfill by Dec. 31.
The effect on restaurants was not immediately clear. Bethesda Beat reached out to a number of local restaurants to see whether they were affected by the missed deliveries, but they did not respond by Monday morning.
For its part, the DLC said it has fixed the problem. “Our staff has been instructed on how the error occurred and how to avoid it in the future so that this does not happen again,” the letter reads.
The department has been scrutinized over the past year for its problems with inefficient deliveries, limited selection and high prices, particularly surrounding special order products such as craft beer and fine wines. State Del. Bill Frick (D–-District 16, Bethesda) has put forth legislation that would allow voters to decide in a referendum if the county should maintain its monopoly over the wholesale distribution of all alcohol and the retail sale of liquor in the county. Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has long been a critic of the DLC, also announced last month he would support Frick’s bill.
Advocates of Frick’s legislation pointed to the apology as a reason to support the change. Roger Berliner, the lone Montgomery County Council member who is supporting Frick’s bill, called it “one more example of DLC’s incompetence” in a post on his Facebook page.
“In a competitive world, such terrible service would have consequences for the distributor,” Berliner wrote. “Here, only our local businesses—and our public—suffer.”
The county has ramped up its defense of the DLC’s alcohol monopoly over the past two months, including a passionate plea by County Executive Ike Leggett at a state legislative forum in November when he urged state legislators not to change the current system that generates more than $30 million in annual profit for the county.
An image of a flier reportedly being distributed by the county’s Office of Public Information at Montgomery County wine and liquor stores shared by a Twitter user Sunday may show that the county is willing to put forth a promotional campaign to defend the monopoly.
The flier reads that shopping at county liquor stores benefits local residents rather than “out-of-state liquor interests.”
“Local liquor control doesn’t cost taxpayers a single dime and contributes an average of $30 million every year to the county’s general fund—helping us fund schools, transportation, help for the vulnerable in our midst and more,” the flier reads.
— Justin Fidler (@ameeriklane) January 3, 2016
Adam Pagnucco, a Silver Spring political operative who formed the “End the Monopoly” advocacy group to support Frick’s legislation, has requested an opinion from the county’s attorney to determine whether the flier is political speech and whether the End the Monopoly group has the right to distribute its own fliers alongside the county’s fliers.
Pagnucco cites the county’s controversial 2012 decision to lobby for a referendum it was supporting to eliminate “effects bargaining rights”—issues beyond salaries, benefits and working conditions—for Montgomery County police officers below the rank of lieutenant. To support its position on the issue, the county’s public information office spent about $125,000 in taxpayer funds on mailings, bus ads and other tactics to sway voters.
The use of taxpayer funds on the campaign became a legal issue, with the police union challenging the county’s campaign in court and initially winning a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling in 2014 in which the judge found the county was trying to influence the outcome of an election. That ruling was later overturned by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in April, which found the county has a right to permissible government speech, even if it is political. However, the debate did result in Leggett allowing the police union to run Ride On bus ads on county buses alongside the county’s ads prior to the 2012 election.
Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Leggett, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning about the fliers.