The Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control was using "sticky notes" to keep track of missing inventory.
That was just one of the stunning revelations that came out Friday during testimony from the county's Inspector General during a special county hearing investigating the agency.
The ad hoc committee hearing began with doctors, county police and DLC Director George Griffin detailing how DLC protects public health. Griffin said he prohibited the distribution of what he called "irresponsible and dangerous" products like prepackaged jello shots and caffeinated alcohol.
"Those products at one time or another were sold in Maryland,” Griffin said. “They were never sold in Montgomery County."
After hearing testimony that Montgomery County was one of the safest and healthiest counties in the state, committee members indicated they will probably allow DLC to continue to control alcohol enforcement and the distribution of hard liquor.
But council members became very concerned when county Inspector General Edward Blansitt showed how "sticky notes" were used to track missing inventory.
He said as many as 154 cases a day go missing without anyone investigating why. As an example, he explained to the committee, “If it’s 950 cases of product that's missing, somebody needs to go out on the warehouse floor and verify it and track it and do an investigation of why those cases were missing in the first place."
The ad hoc committee and its hearings were called following our News4 I-Team “Beer Bust” investigation in November, which showed how we had to input data from more than 30,000 handwritten pages to create a database that exposed problems with missing and possibly stolen cases of beer.
Seven DLC employees have since been fired or quit as a result of that investigation, with at least one employee possibly facing court proceedings, according to previous statements made by DLC.
After the IG report was presented, Councilman Marc Elrich became critical of DLC management. “Managing a warehouse and inventory is like Business 101,” he said. “There are few things that are simpler than counting what's on a shelf."
Griffin responded that DLC has recently brought in three new experts to overhaul its warehouse and inventory systems, including a former Marriott executive and a consultant from the liquor industry. Montgomery County’s Deputy Director of Transportation Edgar Gonzalez is also transferring into the agency starting Monday.
But the council became increasingly frustrated when Griffin wouldn't give them a solid deadline for implementing changes outlined in the IG report.
Council President George Leventhal told Griffin, "Whether it's the inventory control sloppiness, whether it's the failure to delivery inventory product in a manner that's workable to licensees, this is not a government that works.” He expressed concern Griffin wasn’t taking the ad hoc committee hearings seriously. “A lack of urgency and complacency are unsatisfactory."
Griffin replied, “We get it, we know how important this is, and we know the county is looking at the future of how they want to operate in this business."
The committee’s chair, Councilman Hans Riemer, told Griffin, “It's a difficult discussion to have, and I want to say, you know, this rolls up to the county executive, he's responsible. This affects the revenue we generate. This affects a thousand small businesses in our county to depend on the government to provide them with service so they can be profitable serving the residents of our community."
Following the hearing, County Executive Ike Leggett’s spokesman Patrick Lacefield told the I-Team, "The system of local liquor control is working. It's protecting the public health and keeping county money in the county. Can we do it in a more consumer-friendly way? Yes. We're working on that."
This was supposed to be the last hearing until June for the ad hoc committee. But the committee decided at the end of the hearing it wanted to further discuss problems restaurants and stores are now reporting about DLC’s new computer system, which they say are preventing them from receiving the alcohol they purchase from the county.
The committee is now planning to meet again in about three weeks, because as Leventhal mentioned at the end of this hearing, “The more we dig, the more issues come up.”