Long-serving Harford liquor board member Vernon Gauss steps down

Posted March 24, 2016 - For Vernon L. Gauss Jr., who has spent nearly eight years on the Harford County Liquor Control Board, including the past year as its vice chairman, Wednesday's board meeting was bittersweet, as he bid fellow board members and the staff farewell.

"I hate to say goodbye; I've seen a lot happen with this board," said Gauss, who was attending his final meeting. "I'm retired, but I'm around if anyone needs me to help out."

Gauss' third term on the board will end April 4. He wanted to continue, but County Executive Barry Glassman did not reappoint him.

His fellow board members took a few minutes at the end of the meeting to thank Gauss for his service. Over the years he's served with a number of different people and staff and pretty much got along with everyone, providing more than a few humorous moments to enliven board meetings.

Gauss said he has seen a number of changes with the board, particularly in the past year as both Glassman and the board members themselves took steps aimed at making the board more attuned to the needs and concerns of the businesses it regulates.

"I do believe we are a better board for the community," Gauss said.

Gauss, a resident of Kingsville and a Republican, was appointed to the five-member board by former County Executive David Craig in 2008.

Prior to Wednesday's meeting, Gauss also talked about the changes of the past eight years, noting he has served under three board administrators and there has been other staff turnover, as well. Last year, the board's two inspectors resigned abruptly, leading the board to rehire its former inspector who had retired.

"We've gone through some growing pains, some adjustments, and I think things are going in a good and better direction at this point for the community, as well as for the board," he said.

His first term started April 2, 2008. He was reappointed to a full three-year term in 2010 and again in 2013. He became vice chair of the board April 8, 2015, Pilar Gracia, acting administrator of the liquor board, said.

Gauss said he would have liked to serve one more term, especially to see various liquor-related bills being considered by the Maryland General Assembly through to completion.

He focused on House Bill 1051, which would create a special community college liquor license to allow Harford Community College to sell beer and wine at community events on campus, and HB-892, titled the Movie Theater License bill, which would create a movie theater liquor license allowing for sales of beer, wine and liquor at movie theaters.

The House bills, and companion Senate versions, have been passed by their respective bodies and are awaiting committee hearings.

"I'm not opposed to either bill, but the way that the bills were written they leave a lot to be desired and need some work," Gauss said.

He explained that he would like the see the movie theater bill be revised with generic language that could be applied to more entertainment venues, rather than just movie theaters. He also noted there has been prior "confusion" among HCC officials, legislators and liquor board members as they worked out the process of how the college, as a licensee, will oversee alcohol sales during events.

Gauss said he wants to get the bills "to the point where they're viable for the individual [licensee] as well as the community."

He said he has offered his services to the board to provide advice and guidance, drawing on his experience working within the Legislature in Annapolis on behalf of the plumbing and construction industry. Gauss is a retired plumbing contractor.

"As needed, I'll be there and just give 2 cents if they need it," he said.

Glassman has appointed Walter A. "Butch" Tilley III, the president of York Insurance Services Inc., of Forest Hill, to fill Gauss' seat.

"He has an insurance background, a small business background, so I just thought he would bring a good perspective [to the board]," Glassman said of Tilley.

Glassman also appointed Tilley, who is also a Republican, to the county's Planning Advisory Board in March 2015. The county executive stressed that Gauss has "done a good job," but he wanted to put some new people on the liquor board.

"My general philosophy, on this board and several others, after a couple of terms I am giving other folks an opportunity to refresh some of the different boards," Glassman said Tuesday.

He said Gauss has "been on there for eight years and done a good job, but I just wanted to give somebody else a shot at it." A year ago he replaced then chairman Sandi Tunney with Sheryl Davis Kohl, although a spokesperson for the county executive said at the time that Tunney had been offered another term and declined.

Glassman has also reappointed C. John Sullivan Jr. to a second term on the liquor board. Craig appointed Sullivan in the spring of 2013.

The Tilley and Sullivan appointments have been endorsed by Harford County's House and Senate delegations in Annapolis, in accordance with the county's multi-tiered appointment process. Both men are scheduled to be confirmed by the Harford County Council on April 5, according to Glassman, which is the final step in the process.

They will be sworn in – pending County Council approval – the next day, according to Gracia.

Sullivan, a resident of Bel Air, is the former director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. He is retired from the state government. He is also an author, who has written several books on waterfowl hunting history and decoy collecting, and is a well-known collector of decoys and other waterfowling artifacts.

He is the former director of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, and he currently serves as a consultant to the museum.

Sullivan said Tuesday he thinks the liquor board has become "much more business friendly than it has been in years past."

"We perceive ourselves as a business-friendly board," he continued. "We are open and transparent in our dealings with our clients, and I look forward to serving another three years."