Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot disparaged Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control and its system of selling and distributing alcohol in a video interview published Tuesday by Montgomery Community Media.
“Montgomery County is the last bastion of a medieval state system where the county, if you can believe it, sells all the spirits, alcohol, and we’re not just talking retail, we’re talking wholesale,” Franchot said. “This is a system that is incredibly slanted against the consumer and the ordinary citizen. The choices available [and] the customer service is terrible and I have made a very emphatic request as the chief regulator of the state’s alcohol as the comptroller of the state that Montgomery County get out of the liquor business. The sooner the better.”
Franchot, a Takoma Park resident, described the county as a “mecca of anti-consumerism.” He said the county-run liquor stores are “poorly lit” and “the service is terrible.”
Franchot added, “Most people in Montgomery County go to Prince George’s, the District or Virginia to buy their alcohol because it’s such a disgrace.”
This may be the strongest stance that Franchot has taken regarding the county’s system of liquor control, but it’s not the first time he’s spoken against it. In May, his office issued a press release calling for the county to get out of the liquor business after he told those attending a meeting of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce that privatizing alcohol sales in the county is a “winnable” issue.
Franchot has already dismantled similar liquor control systems in Worcester County on Maryland’s Eastern shore and now he’s trying to push the General Assembly to do the same in Montgomery County.
Elected officials in the county have been wary about approaching the issue, which generates about $25 million to $30 million in county revenue annually. Also, the Department of Liquor Control employs about 300 workers, who are represented by the powerful UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO union, which represents a total of 8,000 county government workers. Still, at-large County Councilmember Hans Riemer has made the biggest push, saying in May that “there’s no question we need to reform our system.” He is looking for ways to make the department run more like a business.
County restaurateurs and privately-owned beer and wine store owners have long complained about dealing with selection and pricing issues when purchasing products from the county liquor control department.
Department Director George Griffin has said he’s interested in modernizing the county’s system. The department has contracted with a consulting firm, Public Financial Management, to produce a strategic business plan and is developing a new ordering system that Griffin has described as “similar to ordering from Amazon,” which will allow restaurants to see what alcohol brands are available in the county.