Updated at 1:35 p.m. — Montgomery County on Friday hit back at critics of the county’s unique alcohol control model, arguing the system has helped protect the county from the amount of alcohol-related problems that affect other communities.

The occasion for the county’s push against privatizing its alcohol distribution and liquor retail operations was the latest meeting of the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, which hopes to recommend major reforms later this year.

Dr. David Jernigan, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins, said Montgomery County’s control model is close to the “sweet spot,” wherein the county can decide not to sell alcohol products deemed especially dangerous while also satisfying the needs of its licensees — the restaurants and beer and wine stores that rely on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).

Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didone also cautioned against getting rid of the DLC from a public safety perspective.

“Public health experts will testify this morning that Montgomery County’s Local Liquor Control system is superior to protecting the public health, combatting underage drinking and striking the balance between the sale of a legal, controlled substance and meeting community concerns and the public interest,” the county announced in a Friday morning press release. “Montgomery’s system, in fact, has blocked the introduction of numerous liquor industry products aimed at underage drinkers.”

It later put out a more detailed release citing a variety of statistics and expert opinion.


Councilmember Hans Riemer, the chair of the committee, has criticized the DLC before.

But for a few weeks, it’s been apparent that Riemer and colleagues Marc Elrich and George Leventhal would prefer to keep the county’s current system intact while improving its management and allowing special order craft beers and wines to be sold privately to county restaurants and beer and wine stores.

The five options for DLC reform as recommended by the OLO. Council members have indicated their support for Option 4.“I don’t really see how that would necessarily increase consumption or necessarily increase the social cost,” Leventhal said of the idea to privatize the special order process.


That option has been popular among those on the committee because of complaints from licensees about incomplete orders, unavailable products and other issues with the DLC’s delivery system.

In Friday’s hearing, the conversation eventually shifted back from general public health issues to specific issues with the way DLC does inventory and processes orders out of its Gaithersburg warehouse. The department put in a new Oracle system to manage inventory starting in February meant to improve what it admits has been an inefficient and disjointed process.

But many licensees have complained the new system has only made things worse. A report from the county’s inspector general also found flaws.


“It’s a difficult discussion to have and I want to say this rolls up to the county executive,” Riemer said. “He is responsible. This affects the revenue we generate. This affects a thousand small businesses in our county who depend on the government for a service so they can be profitable serving the residents of our community.”

The county and DLC revealed Friday that they’re already making changes to fix inventory and delivery issues.

Edgar Gonzalez, who Riemer described as a “legendary” transportation manager for the county’s Department of Transportation, will start working with DLC on Monday. DLC Director George Griffin said the department has also hired a retired Marriott executive to work as a consultant.


“While we got very compelling testimony today in support of the concept of a control jurisdiction and the public health issues involved, to maintain public confidence you have to produce. You have to show results,” Leventhal told Griffin during the hearing. “I don’t sense urgency in terms of developing a response and that lack of urgency and complacency is unsatisfactory.”

“This is fish or cut bait,” Elrich added. “Either you figure out if you can make it work, or you go get a proper system.”

Griffin assured Council members that DLC is aggressively addressing the issues.


“I think you have everyone’s attention,” he said.

Assistant Chief Administrator Bonnie Kirkland said the county is willing to come before the committee to talk about the specifics of DLC’s current management procedures, a meeting likely to happen in April.

Riemer said the committee’s plan is to hold a public hearing and form tight recommendations for DLC changes after the Council finishes its work on the annual budget.