Photo by The Georgetown Dish
ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels, a veteran on alcohol issues, testifies before the ABC Board in February with CAG's Tim Altemus
ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels, a veteran on alcohol issues, testifies before the ABC Board in February with CAG's Tim Altemus
The resignation of embattled Alcohol Beverage Control Board Chairman Charles Brodsky offers a welcome opening for Mayor Vincent Gray to use his appointment powers to recast this key regulatory body as both a protector of neighborhoods and a promoter of a key economic force in the city, especially true in Georgetown with its high concentrations of liquor-serving businesses in a residential community.  
 
First, the Mayor should be strongly praised for bringing Brodsky's toxic tenure to a halt last week. Brodsky's arrogance, disrespect for community leaders, and questionable standards of conduct were doing active harm to neighborhoods as well as the public trust.
 
But now, the Mayor has an unusual opportunity to exercise his powers to remake the board, because he can appoint six of the seven board members.  Brodsky’s seat is vacant as is the one formerly filled by Mital Gandhi who resigned in March in protest over Brodsky’s apparent conflicts of interest and other questioned actions and the terms of four other members (Herman O. Jones, Nicholas S. Alberti, Donald C. Brooks, Mike Silverstein) expired May 7.   
 
Readers of The Georgetown Dish, with their appreciation for the important role entertainment, restaurants and cultural life play in Washington, along with the critical need to preserve the neighborhoods and residential tax base most impacted by alcohol establishments, understand how important the alcohol board is.
 
Councilmember Jim Graham said he appreciated some of the initiatives Brodsky took to "strike the right balance between community engagement and investors in the entertainment business." That's code language for a warmer embrace of business and alcohol interests. As the District builds its reputation as a place for restaurants and retail, alcohol policies should support broader economic goals. However, disputes before the ABC Board often involve harm to neighborhoods and other businesses. The rights of one alcohol business cannot trample the basic rights of its neighbors -- whether they be residents or other, sometimes alcohol-related, businesses.
 
The issues, while often "hyperlocal" as Brodsky derisively characterized them in the case of Georgetown, can be nuanced, complex, and critical.
 
The Dish asks our readers for names to suggest to Mayor Gray to fill the six vacancies on the alcohol board. We get the conversation going with these suggestions:
 
Bill Starrels, (Ward 2) ANC from Georgetown who has shown a keen interest in and acquired an expertise on liquor issues.
 
Dennis James (Ward 1), who as head of the Kalorama Citizens Association deals continuously with liquor questions.
 
Bryan Weaver (Ward 1), who ran two recent campaigns for the Council as a good-government candidate.
 
Jackie Blumenthal (Ward 3) from Glover Park, she served on the liquor-related noise task force.
 
Mike Silverstein (Ward 2), who is a current Board member who has been independent and fair-minded.
 
Jacque Patterson (Ward 8), who ran a spirited campaign for Council at-large, and is more than qualified to adjudicate these issues wisely.
 
To assure that the new Board is completely above-board and fair to all communities across the city, and to eliminate any future concerns about conflict-of-interest, Silverstein and Starrels should not continue as ANCs if appointed to the ABC Board -- nor should James as head of the Kalorama citizens group.
 
With the tumultuous tenure of Brodsky behind them, the new alcohol commissioners can make a fresh start and, like their highly-rated staff at the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, set the bar high for public integrity, efficiency, and sound decision making.

0 Comments For This Article

Peter Rosenstein

I think it is important for the Mayor to appoint someone with a balanced interest in making sure that while we protect neighborhoods we don't go back to the anti-business policies of previous ABC Boards.

I am opposed to naming an individual who currently sits on an ANC and who has vested interests in a particular community. That could send the wrong message as to the impartiality of the ABC Board.

It is time to appoint an independent person who will look at liguor licences from the perspective of the law and not be swayed by the loudest local group. If there is a problem with the law then the Council and the Mayor should fix it, but it isn't the role of the ABC Board to make decisions on how to skirt it as has sometimes happened in the past.

Annonymous

The Georgetown Business Association and the Georgetown BID will be hosting a July 13, 2011 DC Nightlife & Hospitality speaker's forum with a panel of invited guests for a lively and informative discussion on issues surrounding the restaurant and nightlife industry in DC and Georgetown in particular.

Robin Diener

For having the courage of his convictions, I urge the re-nomination of Mital Gandhi. A multitude of concerned citizen voices went unheard or were disparaged until Gandhi made public his view of the chair's ethical lapses and, on principle, resigned his commission.

Anonymous

I think Commissioner Bill Starrels would be a great pick to serve on the ABC Board. He has a good feel for the impacts that an establishment can have on the community and knows the ways to minimize those without choking-off the business.

To the contrary of an earlier poster, I do not think that being a current, or former, ANC commissioner should be bar to service on the ABC Board. I do agree with the suggestion that should a current ANC commissioner be appointed it should be done so with the understanding that they would resign their ANC position. Likewise, so as to not hobble the operation of the board, we should avoid appointing persons who are actively participating in civic organizations who regularly appear before the Board. Just recusing in specific cases would not be enough to remove the taint of an appearance of a conflict of interest.

But that leaves us with a broad base of candidates for filling these important positions.

Anonymous

I second Robin's suggestion of Mr. Gandhi's nomination to the Board. I have seen Mital in action on the Board, and whether or not I agree with him, he has always listened and applied the law to the 2 cases that I was involved in. He also is an effective communicator who listens to parties rather then the arrogant, corrupt former chair, Mr. Brodsky.

Other board members I believe would be good choices include, Mr. Starrels, if he gave up his ANC seat, and Messrs. Alberti and Brooks, if they admit their fault, if any, in BrodskyGate as well as an industry representative from the Restaurant association.

Let's see if Mayor Gray listens to the community or just appoints his cronies. I am also looking at Chairman Brown to see if he takes Abra issues away from Graham who now has not only a taxicab scandal but an ABC scandal under his watch. Remember he held an oversight hearing with Brodsky and asked little to nothing of these issues.

Anonymous

Thank you for continuing to follow this story. The alcohol board should finally start respecting the neighbors of restaurants and nightclubs, which all too often walk all over their neighbors rights with the blessing of the alcohol board.

Cozmot

I agree that Mayor Gray deserves kudos for ousting Brodsky, who everybody knew was highly biased towards the liquor community and didn't give a damn about residents. I was at a fact-finding hearing last year called by ABRA against a bar after an independent investigation. Chief Lanier recommended that the bar's license be permanently revoked. Brodsky scolded the residents present for complaining and suggested that they move to Virginia if they didn't like it. And here we all thought that the city wanted more, not less, residents.

Brodsky, of course, ignored Chief Lanier's recommendation and "warned" the bar against future infractions. (A patron was later slashed in the face in the bar, but after a closure of three days, reopened, thanks to Brodsky and his obsequious board of followers.

Adrian Fenty, thanks for foisting Brodsky on the city. You knew of the allegations -- who didn't -- yet let him continue his abusive reign. For this alone you deserved to be defeated.

John Carroll

It's troubling that none of the suggested board candidates in this editorial have any experience in either the nightlife industry or as an entrepreneur. Bill Starrels is the liquor rep for the Georgetown ANC and fights tooth and nail against pretty much any business that wants to come to Georgetown, whether it be bars, crepe joints or the Apple Store, whose opening was delayed by more than 2 years due to ANC squabbles. I can't imagine that any mayor in his right mind would want Bill Starrels making decisions that would affect the city's economy.

Anonymous

I agree that it poses a potential conflict of interest to continue to have ANC commissioners as ABC board members. The parties that serve in both roles must recuse themselves either as commissioners or as board members.
It's too entangled and often unproductive. It promotes the perception that the ABC Board is a kangaroo court.

As to Mr. Rosenstein's other comment, during the past ten years, there has never been a board that is anti-business. In fact, they've consistently been pro-business, with other chairs, besides Brodsky, having conflicts of interest. It's time for citizens to have equal access and consideration.

John Carroll

Whether or not ANC commissioners recuse themselves upon being appointed to the board is immaterial. It's inappropriate for ANCs to be viewed as a springboard to ABRA, particularly given the fact that licensees are banned and that you rarely see appointees picked from the chamber of commerce. Many commissioners are indeed reasonable. However, you must take into account that a significant portion of their responsibility relates to representing the interests of neighbors against the interests of businesses. I'm not saying that ANC commissioners should be banned, but the position should be viewed as neither a compelling credential nor an indication of anything but bias when it comes to arbitrating disputes seen before the board.

Regarding Charles Brodsky, I think he is both corrupt and morally bankrupt. That said, it was refreshing to finally see an ABRA chairman who had entrepreneurial experience and could relate to business owners, and I think most of his decisions relied on the law and his experience rather than his ethical shortcomings. Were he he beholden to ANCs due to his triathlon interests the concern would actually be that he was biased to rule in their favor and nice vice versa.

Robin Diener

I agree with those who suggest that ANC Commissioners who agree to be nominated to the ABC Board should step down from their local commissions upon confirmation. ANC Commissioners are an ideal pool from which to draw nominees -- they have exactly the right experience to be effective ABC Board members. But if they recuse themselves at one level or the other, as they should, either the neighborhood-in-question or the city-at-large loses the benefit of that experience.