Controversy over the liquor license application process in Calvert County has African-American officials in the county furious. The county’s branch of the NAACP is upset over language in the license application process it believes contributes to discrimination.

On March 14, the NAACP asked the liquor board to remove the requirement for applicants to disclose their color. The group said a Black applicant was denied because all county health and zoning agencies hadn’t approved permits while a White candidate received approval on an abandoned building. In fact out of 130 liquor-license holders in Calvert County, only two African Americans are on licenses and in those cases they are co-owners of the licenses.

Michael Kent, vice president of Calvert County’s NAACP chapter, told the AFRO the liquor board responded in a letter, telling him they were changing the application’s language, but provided no substantial proof as to why.

“There was no new application in with ,” Kent said. “They also gave explanations as to why there had been liquor application issued to White applicants on abandoned buildings while Black applicants had to have everything completed to planning and zoning.”

The board told Kent the specific example he gave was a one-time occurrence. In fact, Allan Swann told WUSA 9 that the fact the question is still on the application is “an embarrassment” and that “the board has never looked at race, sex or any of that.”

Swann’s service on the board has come into question by Kent now too. Not because of his performance, but because he’s been there for two decades. Liquor board commissioners are appointed by the governor and their terms run for two years with no limits. Kent says it may be time for Gov. Martin O’Malley to find new blood for the board.

“One of the problems we have is just recently one person came off of the liquor board after 30 years,” Kent said. “Two others have been on there for more than 20 years. My question is why have they been on there for so long, especially since they’re just a few paid positions and these positions control so much as far as the commerce.”

Kent is hoping that with new members on the board, there will be more transparency in the process as well.

Kent says he will continue to ask the liquor board to provide him with a copy of the new application. He says if it doesn’t, he will fill out a Freedom of Information Act for requiring the liquor board to comply. If the board doesn’t respond at that point, he’s prepared to take the matter to the state’s attorney general’s office.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO