Liquor license plan gets mixed reviews

Some Craig business owners say that any change in city policy that improves communication between the Craig City Council and liquor license holders is much needed. Others believe a new policy would create some consistency in a process that has been largely inconsistent and has created tension among business owners and the council.

"The city needs to be proactive rather than reactive and set up some concepts and guidelines we can follow instead of just getting frustrated," said Josh Lawson, owner of Bad to the Bone restaurant in Craig.

Employees of five businesses were cited in the latest Grand Futures/Craig Police Department undercover operation that tested whether businesses were serving alcohol to minors. The liquor licenses of three of those businesses have been before the council for renewal, but their owners did not attend the meeting.

That situation is what prompted the council to develop a policy for liquor license renewals when the business has had a violation.

Violations range from serving minors, to over serving, to having numerous calls to the police department for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.

City officials are developing a policy in which the council and business owner would be notified immediately following a violation and that business owner would appear before the council for a "show cause hearing." There, the business owner would be called on to demonstrate what is being done to ensure there won't be a repeat of the violation.

"I think business owners should show up if their liquor license is on the line," said Diana Knez. She and her husband own the OP Bar and Grill. "We'd definitely be there if they had questions and show interest in keeping our business and keeping our license."

Currently, the violation is only addressed when the businesses liquor license is up for annual renewal and business owners aren't told they are required to monitor a situation that in the past has been a "rubber stamp" procedure.

An employee of Bad the Bone was cited in the last sting and Lawson was one of the business owners who didn't attend his license renewal hearing. He said he wasn't informed there would be a discussion about his license or that a violation was logged that might impede its renewal.

"In the 15 years that I've had a liquor license, there was never more than a rubber stamp to approve it," he said.

He said he's lost all respect for the city council for the way the situation was handled.

"The lines of communication need to be open before someone opens their mouth and bitches and moans," he said. "I didn't elect a bunch of people to sit on their butts and make assumptions on what my regard and respect for them are. Don't they think that if I thought for a moment that my liquor license was in jeopardy that I would be there? Of course I'd be there."

Lawson said his employee was cited for serving a minor and he was given only what he considered to be a verbal warning. In response, he called a meeting of employees and discussed procedures for serving alcohol.

City officials take some responsibility for the lack of attendance at liquor license renewal hearings.

"It's partially our fault because we didn't tell them they needed to (attend)," City Manager Jim Ferree said.

The city council is the local liquor licensing authority. It has the power to suspend a liquor license for up to 14 days, levy a fine or revoke a license, actions council members said they would only consider for second and subsequent violations.

"Some times, for some people, the only way they can be made aware of the law is to be punished," Knez said. "Being a business owner, you need to be responsible."

In making a decision, the council would take into consideration the seriousness of the violation, corrective action taken by the licensee after the violation, prior violations, likelihood of recurrence, extenuating circumstances and others.

Ferree recommended that the council establish general guidelines giving some flexibility for dealing with each unique situation.

Jim Diehl, owner of Carelli's Italian Restaurant in Craig, was also one of the businesses whose employee was cited for serving a minor. He said the policy sounds fair.

"A punishment is definitely important for repeat offenders," he said, " but I think they can easily take it too far."

He said he also wasn't informed that the council would be discussing the violation when his license was renewed.

In the case of serving alcohol to a minor, the employee is cited, not the business and business owners generally aren't made aware of the outcome of the citation. In several cases, the employee has been terminated.

Diehl said he's got no problem attending a council meeting at which his liquor license is being discussed.

"Losing your liquor license can kill a small independent," he

said.

The council will address the first version of an ordinance on liquor licensing policies at its regular meeting on July 22.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.