, Salem, MA


July 31, 2013

Our view: Time to revise licensing board laws

It’s time for the state Legislature to update Massachusetts’ outdated laws concerning municipal licensing boards.

Leaders in two local communities were surprised to learn that state law requires that licensing board members “shall be appointed from each of the two leading political parties and the third member may also be appointed from one of said parties.”

Salem ran into a problem with the law last month. Mayor Kim Driscoll was set to appoint Gina Flynn, an unenrolled voter, to replace longtime member John Casey before City Councilor Todd Siegel pointed out the law. Driscoll then had to backtrack and appoint Republican Paul Flores to the board.

In Beverly, Scanlon said he’s going to have to “make a modification” to his city’s board, likely before its meeting next month. Beverly’s board has one Democrat, Gloucester mayoral aide James Duggan, and two unenrolled voters, attorney Richard Kelley and retired police Lt. John Roccio, one of whom will likely get the boot.

Scanlon told reporter Paul Leighton the law was “archaic” and didn’t make much sense. Still, he said, “it is a law that is in place.”

We agree — the law certainly doesn’t make much sense. In Beverly, it will mean the removal of a qualified board member. It was an unnecessary complication in Salem.

The absolute last qualification for serving on a licensing board — or on almost any other municipal committee or board we can think of — should be political party affiliation.

The job of licensing boards is to approve liquor licenses and discipline businesses that violate rules governing the sale and serving of alcohol. Adding party politics doesn’t make the job easier — it makes it more difficult. The Salem Licensing Board’s hearing on The Tavern in the Square earlier this week was thorough and professional. We can only imagine what future hearings would be like if municipal leaders are forced to consider party affiliation as a top qualification.

With unenrolled voters making up more than half the voting public in Massachusetts, there’s ample evidence most citizens don’t want anything to do with either party. They want their elected and volunteer officials to make intelligent, informed decisions on their behalf, regardless of whether there’s a D or an R after their name.

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