Credit: Andrew Metcalf

An 11-member task force tasked with examining potential changes to or privatization of Montgomery County’s much-criticized Department of Liquor Control (DLC) will hold its first meeting July 14.

Members of the group, an idea of state lawmakers who in February declined to vote on two bills that threatened the county’s unique alcohol control model, include a Bethesda restaurant owner who has been outspoken in his criticism of the county’s system, the deputy director of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, County Council member Hans Riemer and county government officials.

County spokesperson Patrick Lacefield provided Bethesda Beat with a list of the members Thursday.

Also on the task force will be Gino Renne, president of the county government employees’ union that represents DLC workers.

Brian Vasile, owner of Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda, is the local restaurant owner who in December helped start a fundraising campaign aimed at ending the county’s monopoly on alcohol distribution and the retail sale of liquor.  

One of the two bills that didn’t get enough support from state legislators in February would’ve put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the county’s alcohol monopoly should be abolished. That measure was supported by District 16 state Del. Bill Frick of Bethesda and state Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Instead of passing the legislation, state legislators asked County Executive Ike Leggett to set up the task force, the latest such group that will examine DLC issues including late deliveries, pricing and product inventory. Riemer led a council committee last year that looked into the issues extensively.

The county has maintained the DLC is a critical source of revenue, with about $30 million in profit each year. Opponents have argued private alcohol distributors are better suited to provide efficient service than a government agency.

In January, longtime DLC Director George Griffin resigned and the county promised a national search for a replacement. Fariba Kassiri, an assistant county chief administrative officer, took over as interim director of the DLC and will be on the task force.

Lacefield said there isn’t an established deadline for the task force to complete its work and the focus of the July 14 meeting will likely be on determining the group’s schedule and discussion topics.

The 11 members of the task force are:

Brian Vasile, managing partner, Brickside Food and Drink, Bethesda;

Pinky Rodgers, president/owner, Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape, Gaithersburg;

John Favazza, deputy director, Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association;

Joseph A. Giardina, division manager, Breakthru Beverage Group (a wholesale beverage business formerly known as Reliable Churchill);

Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO;

Hans Riemer, County Council member;

Jennifer Hughes, director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget;

Fariba Kassiri, DLC interim director;

Joe Beach (or designee), the county’s director of finance;

Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify (a Baltimore-based advocacy group for food production and agriculture businesses) and executive director of Maryland Wineries Association/Brewers Association of Maryland/Maryland Distillers Guild; and

Charles Barkley, District 39 state delegate.