“I think you should feel good,” Liquor Board Chairman Thomas Ward said, with a grin, at today’s hearing on whether to renew the licenses of 17 establishments sponsoring the Federal Hill Irish Stroll.
After all, the board had just unanimously voted to greenlight the establishments’ annual license renewals, Ward pointed out to their attorney, Joseph R. Woolman III.
It was an easy decision because the protest-of-renewal petition filed by 20 Federal Hill residents had been withdrew earlier this week.
But what drove Woolman to red-faced distraction was what Ward did next.
He allowed lead petitioner, Betsy Homer, to make a statement about why the neighborhoods complained about the annual bar crawl in the first place.
“We’ve attempted for years to manage this event. . . In spite of that, we’ve had terrible results,” said Homer, going on to show photos she said demonstrated their claim that the March 14 event was a nuisance to neighbors.
The residents have described inebriated, over-served participants vomiting, staggering around, relieving themselves in public and being taken away by paramedics.
One photo from Twitter shows a man and woman engaged in a lewd act at the front door of the Cross Street Market.
Homer even got into the question of whether the sponsoring organization, the Federal Hill Hospitality Association, is a valid non-profit. Their 501 status with the Internal Revenue Service, she observed, expired in September.
To several individual points and to Homer’s whole testimony, Woolman had the same comment, “For the record, I object.”
The attorney, who has also represented the controversial Crossbar project, complained that the proceedings were improper since there was no longer a protest on the table to debate.
Woolman also complained that he told people who could have testified in favor of the Stroll – and in rebuttal to Homer – not to come to the hearing, since the petition had been withdrawn.
“We should not allow this small group to have their cake and eat it, too,” Woolman said. “My clients are upset.”
“I don’t care if they’re upset or not,” Ward shot back. “This is a community board and I’ll allow it.”
The residents withdrew their petition by letter because of a ruling Ward issued earlier this month that narrowly defined the annual license renewal protest process.
“The sole issue before the board is whether the license should be terminated,” Ward wrote, adding that the commissioners “have no power to suspend, fine, impose conditions or otherwise regulate the license.”
Homer said the goal of the petitioners “was never to shut down all the participants in the Stroll, but to curb their ability to participate in such events.” Homer said the residents dropped their effort when they realized they wouldn’t be able to get the “relief” they sought.
A Different World
After Homer spoke, Ward allowed Woolman to respond.
He said he heard that the residents spliced post-Ravens game footage into their film about the Stroll. He also said he lives in the area and added, “I think I’ve lived there longer than some of the protestants.”
He further argued that the event did not cause documented problems. “There were no calls to the police department, health department or fire department during the Stroll, and only two 311 calls to the liquor board that were unsubstantiated and, therefore, cleared.”
Ward, meanwhile, also let the audience know how he feels about the Stroll.
“Years ago, there was a bus, for 50 people, and there was no problem,” he said. (This year’s Stroll was capped at 6,000 tickets.) “I don’t think the purpose is to honor St. Patrick,” Ward continued. “The purpose of this is to make money.”
Saying “it’s a different world now. . . you’re going to be faced with this in the future,” Ward counseled Homer to seek relief at City Hall and mentioned a specific name.
“Go to Ms. [Kaliope] Parthemos,” the mayor’s chief of staff, he said.