City officials revisit liquor license policy

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The four Craig City Council members attending Tuesday night's meeting were enough for a quorum, but not enough to make a decision to create a much-discussed policy for dealing with businesses whose liquor licenses are on the line.

Council members decided to put off a decision until each elected official could have his say. Councilors Tom Gilchrist and Don Jones did not attend the meeting and Councilor Bill Johnston, who also serves as the assistant fire chief, responded to an emergency call shortly after the meeting began.

The council has been wrestling for several years with the issue of how to handle liquor license renewals in cases where the business or its employees have had some violation. The debate came to a head this year after license renewal applications for three businesses whose employees were cited for selling liquor to minors came before the council. Not only were there blemishes on the businesses' applications because of the citations, but the owners of those businesses did not attend the meetings at which their licenses were being discussed.

"I understand the council's position by taking offense that those license holders didn't even show up for their license hearing," said Clyde Hettinger, owner of Dark Horse Liquors in Craig. "I take my license very seriously. It's my livelihood."

City Manager Jim Ferree researched policies other cities have in regard to liquor licensing and presented several options to the council.

The city council is the local liquor licensing authority and has the power to suspend a business' liquor license, revoke it or levy a fine -- none of which council members said is their intent with adopting a policy regarding liquor license renewal.

"A hearing would be held to talk about corrective actions -- not to take away licenses, but to see what can be done to keep them," Ferree said.

One option would be for the council to hold a "show cause hearing" directly following a violation, which would give business owners the opportunity to show why a penalty should not be assessed for certain violations.

Those violations could include not only serving minors, but other infractions such as the number of calls to the police department for fights, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or noise violations.

The business would be required to attend the hearing, solving one of the problems council members had with the renewal process.

"If the licensee doesn't show up, he or she risks losing their license or having it suspended," Ferree said.

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 other factors.

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

Hettinger opposed a blanket policy that impacted all businesses with liquor licenses the same way.

"I guess I have a problem in general with just throwing mud at a wall to cover something up," he said. "If the city council has a problem, it should take it up with those specific license holders."

He said there is a difference between a restaurant losing its liquor license and a liquor store losing its license. The impact on a restaurant would not be as severe was it would a liquor store, he said.

He urged leniency.

"In your business or your job in the last year, have you made any mistakes?" he asked council members. "I'm human. My employees are human. If you threaten to take my license after one mistake, that's wrong."

Council members said the goal was not to revoke or suspend a liquor license but to ensure corrective actions are being taken.

"The hearing is not necessarily for the termination of a liquor license, it's just a possible outcome," City Attorney Sherman Romney said. "It's to make sure small problems are dealt with accordingly and if small problems become big problems, they're dealt with accordingly, too."

Cindy Grinolds, who works for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a substance abuse prevention organization, said she believes there is some complacency among establishments that serve alcohol.

"We, as an organization, don't want people to get in trouble and have their licenses suspended. That isn't the intent," she said. "We just want people to be educated and informed about the consequences."

The issue will be addressed again at the July 8 council meeting. At this time, only suggestions have been made. No formal policy has been offered for the council's consideration.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council:

  • Voted unanimously to renew a tavern liquor license for Mathers' Bar, Inc. & The Cactus Grill.
  • Voted unanimously to renew a 3.2 percent beer retail liquor license for Loaf N' Jug.
  • Voted unanimously to renew a club liquor license for Craig Elks Club No. 1577.
  • Set a public hearing for July 22 to zone the recently annexed Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig property.
  • Voted unanimously to approve a request for a variance of a front-yard setback for a doublewide at 1652 Heather St. requested by Candi Kawcak.
  • Voted unanimously to approve the purchase of a file server for Craig City Hall from Solutions Oriented Systems Computer Consulting of Craig for $6,864.
  • Voted unanimously to approve an off-street parking and landscape plan for a service dog training facility at 13th and Rose streets requested by Edward and Shannan Koucherik.
  • Voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance to modify the Craig Municipal Code to amend certain sections pertaining to limitations on firearms in the city of Craig pursuant to Senate Bill 03-025. The ordinance isn't effective until approved on its second reading, scheduled for July 8.
  • Voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance for the regulation of traffic, amending the Craig Municipal Code that adopts by reference the 2003 edition of the Model Traffic Code. The ordinance isn't effective until approved on its second reading, scheduled for July 8.
  • Discussed a proposal to have the city participate in the financial analysis of Valley View Manor. The council tabled a decision until it was determined whether the facility's financial records would be made available.
  • Tabled a decision on signing an agreement with the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Department of Natural Resources considering the proposed enlargement of Elkhead Reservoir.

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

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