The ad-hoc committee appointed by Mayor Rory Hoskins to address the problems of crime allegedly stemming from bars on Madison Street met for the first time on May 27. The committee will eventually provide the village council with recommendations related to reducing problem behavior in the village’s main shopping and entertainment district.
Although Village Administrator Moses Amidei said he’d extended invitations to all liquor license holders, only about seven members of the public attended the meeting, including the Review and only several business owners.
The committee, which according to Amidei was put together by Hoskins based on commissioner recommendations, is comprised of seven members: Connie Brown, owner of The Brown Cow; Kevin Harnett, owner of Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home; Art Sundry, owner of Café de Luca and several properties in town; Jim Watts, owner of O’Sullivan’s Public House; Joe Sullivan, owner of Duffy’s Tavern; and residents Steven Backman and John Cunningham.
Brown is the only woman on the committee.
Hoskins, on a U.S. State Department sponsored trip through the Abolition Institute to learn about current-day slavery in Mauritania and human-rights initiatives there, was unable to attend the meeting. But because he presides as the liquor commissioner and because he and the commissioners will ultimately vote on recommendations from the committee, he does not plan to attend meetings of this ad hoc group.
The committee has been criticized by some residents and tavern owners for being weighted with business owners who have taken a public stance against bars and for having no minority representation. There is also only one A1 liquor license holder on the committee.
Marty Sorice, owner of several bars in town, stated in comments read by Amidei during the meeting that the committee lacks diversity and that no problem bars have a seat at the table.
“I want everyone at the table,” Amidei said in response. “This process has to be inclusive.” He said he had been looking forward to more people in attendance and sharing their thoughts during the public comment section of the meeting, and he expressed his hope that members of the business and residential community would reach out to him with their ideas and thoughts.
Conversation between committee members and village officials Amidei and Police Chief Tom Aftanas was lively and extensive – the meeting lasted almost 2.5 hours – and focused on several topics.
First, several committee members favored taking a look at the long-forgotten “amusement” application, which requires liquor licensees to receive approval from the village commissioners and liquor commissioner prior to permitting “any public show, theatrical, animate or inanimate exhibition, musical, music, mechanical or manually operated entertainment device.”
If this bit of the village code were enforced, it could prevent establishments from using a DJ or any other form of entertainment without permission, which might cut down on some of the promoted events currently occurring. This, of course, is subject to review and approval by the village attorney.
Second, the idea of further breaking down the liquor license classifications was floated. Specifically, it was suggested that separating bigger bars from smaller ones based on occupancy might be a way to more accurately address issues related to larger spaces and crowds. Again, the village attorney would need to weigh in on whether or not this is a possibility.
Other ideas presented and discussed included: an ID scanning system that would allow bars to share information regarding problem patrons; ensuring bar security are professionally trained and regular so they form a rapport with customers and the police; requiring membership in a Forest Park tavern association, which would meet regularly; disallowing bars to hire promoters to draw large crowds to events; and putting port-a-potties on Madison Street to discourage public urination and to help societal issues such as homelessness.
Brown, Sullivan and Cunningham all said they wanted to see the bars allowed to stay open past 11 p.m. as soon as safely possible.
“There’s an urgency here,” said Brown, acknowledging that requiring A1 liquor license holders (bars without at least 50 percent gross sales from food) to close at 11 p.m. every night throughout the summer wasn’t a good long-term solution.
Cunningham suggested immediately halting all entertainment, such as DJs or live music, until Labor Day, while allowing all bars, not just A licensees, to stay open past 11 p.m. This, he said, might alleviate problem behavior or the issue of larger-than-normal crowds but still allow bars to stay open longer while the village has time to look at the amusement application, licensing and other possible solutions.
Sullivan, the only A1 license holder on the committee, made it clear that the 11 p.m. closing time would severely and irrevocably impact his business.
While no decisions or recommendations were decided upon, committee members weighed in on what they wanted to see in terms of bar hours.
Sundry said that he’d like to see all bars close by midnight every night, with later hours allowed only on holidays.
“If you’re looking to put every A1 out of business, 12 o’clock is the answer,” said Sullivan. “But if you’re looking to put every A1 out of business, I will walk out of here right now. Because 12 o’clock will work for no one … it will not work for business owners and it will not work for employees.”
Sullivan said he has an active patronage of industry people and non-white-collar workers who don’t get off work until 9 p.m., when they stop by for a drink. Closing at 11 p.m. every night presents a big problem for a bar like his that sometimes caters to a later crowd and has had very few problems with patrons since he bought the business not quite two years ago.
Harnett said that while bar owners talk about losing business, his funeral home is threatened too by problematic behavior from Forest Park Tap Room, his immediate neighbor to the west.
“What if we lose four funerals a month? Or Café de Luca can’t get customers? We’re not the enemy,” Harnett said to Sullivan.
Brown said she saw no problem with allowing bars to stay open until 1 a.m. on weeknights and until 2 a.m. on weekends.
Aftanas said he supported a 2 a.m. closing time, if successful measures were put in place to ensure officer and resident safety.
“We want a solution to allow you guys to stay open,” Aftanas said.
Aftanas also said that while there have always been issues with bar patrons on Madison Street, a new issue is the “open hostility” that people show to officers attempting to issue citations or break up fights. The need for extra police officers to patrol Madison Street on weekend nights has added up to thousands of dollars in overtime costs so far.
Committee members Sundry and Backman both said they hoped to look for a solution that cracked down on problem bars financially, because “digging into someone’s pocket gets attention,” Sundry said.
The ad hoc committee was put together after repeated and escalating problem behavior on Madison Street, which reached a tipping point for village officials on Mother’s Day when, in the early morning hours, police attempting to stop a man from choking a woman were allegedly verbally and physically harassed by a crowd of people, which grew to about 50 individuals and took close to half an hour to disperse. Following this, an emergency meeting of the village council was called, during which the council voted to temporarily change bar closure times to 11 p.m. nightly for all establishments for 30 days and until Labor Day for A1, A8 (event space) and brew pub licensees.
Chis Buckley of Mugsy’s, Matt Sullivan of Doc Ryan’s, Patrick Jacknow of Lantern Haus and Jimmy Jodoin of Jimmy’s Place were in attendance in the audience.
The next committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 3, at 10 a.m., a time during which the village attorney will be available to answer questions posed by committee-members. In addition to revisiting previously discussed topics, the issues of event spaces and liquor stores will be discussed at the next meeting.