The ad hoc committee to address bar customer disturbances on Madison Street met for a second time on June 3. Village attorney Tom Bastion attended to offer legal insights on ideas presented throughout the meeting. Also in attendance were Village Administrator Moses Amidei, Mayor Rory Hoskins, Police Chief Tom Aftanas and Deputy Police Chief Ken Gross.
Bastion advised the committee that they should be looking at both short- and long-term solutions and recommendations. Short term solutions might be those that would allow bars to stay open longer now; long-term solutions could involve a deeper dive and consequential rewriting of local code, something that could take four or more months to accomplish.
Short-term solutions that would be written into a temporary ordinance and presented at the next village council meeting will cover the following issues: bar hours, live music and entertainment, and distribution/selling of cups at liquor stores.
For bar hours, it seemed like all committee members present (funeral home owner Kevin Harnett could not attend due to a business obligation) were in favor of extending closing time for all bars, including A1 license holders, though the hours that were suggested varied. Art Sundry suggested a midnight closing every night of the week. Jim Watts and Steve Backman favored a 1 a.m. across-the-board closing time. Connie Brown said she’d like to see bars open until 2 a.m. on weekends and 1 a.m. all other nights. Joe Sullivan agreed, though he hopes to see Thursday night added in as a “weekend” night and given longer hours.
“We understand and hear the differences of opinion on bar hours,” Amidei said. He added that a conversation between himself, the police chief and village staff will allow them to come up with a recommendation based on everyone’s input.
A temporary moratorium on live music and DJs was proposed by the committee at least until Labor Day or until the village has time to dig into the “amusement” section in the current liquor license code, a part of the code that hasn’t been enforced in recent memory of village officials. That code may need to ultimately be rewritten or simply enforced. Until then, however, disallowing any entertainment of that sort may be proposed to the village council as part of the committee’s recommendations.
Finally, some liquor stores have allegedly been giving out or selling individual plastic cups, which are potentially being used by those purchasing them to drink in cars prior to going to the bars. Cracking-down on this is part of the short-term solutions being looked at by the committee.
Village staff will write up a summary of the short-term issues and potential solutions and distribute it to the committee members for final approval or changes, which will then go back to staff and the village attorney to be written into an ordinance. That ordinance will hopefully be up for vote at the next village council meeting on June 14.
Long term strategies to counter the problems seen lately on Madison Street involve taking a look at the entertainment application that is already part of the liquor code but is not currently being enforced to see if it needs rewriting. A new definition of “amusement” or “entertainment” could be considered. Zoning might come into play too, and an examination of what is allowed in the Downtown Business District, when talking about bars on Madison Street for instance, will be pursued.
Another long-term strategy is taking an in-depth look at the classifications of liquor licenses already in the books to see what needs updating, adding, or eliminating. Breaking down the A1 licenses by square footage is a possibility, though Bastion said a permanent change to this or to bars’ hours of operation should be done during the licensing period and should come with a change in licensing fees.
Bastion also suggested instituting a rule that if an establishment with a liquor license closes, the village’s number of licenses should be automatically reduced by one.
Looking at liquor stores or shops that sell liquor in addition to food, such as Living Fresh on Roosevelt Road or CVS near Harlem Avenue and Circle Avenue, will also be done. Whether the hours of liquor sales at those locations need to be adjusted is a long-term consideration and possibility.
Village code regarding event space will get a careful eye too, since, suggested Bastion, it’s possible that the business model of event spaces has changed. since the code was originally written. Bastion said event spaces may have “morphed into something we were not made aware of when drafting the license.”
Bringing back the tavern owners’ association could be considered both a short-term and long-term solution and was something Joe Sullivan supported vocally during the meeting. “I think we could do some great stuff through mutual policing,” said Sullivan.
The association could also help with something else Sullivan said is important: bar owners’ need to know what’s in the code. For example, he said, the code states exactly how long a bar owner has to notify police about a fight or crime that takes place at an establishment. But not all bar owners are aware of that, he said.
As for why the village can’t just yank a license from a bar that’s not following all the rules? It’s not that simple.
“A liquor license is a privilege, not a right. But once it’s granted, the holder has due process rights as set forth in the liquor code,” said Bastion, which is why, he said, simply revoking a bar’s license isn’t a simple solution to the problem of patron behavior. In addition, behavior of patrons once they leave a bar is difficult to tie back to that establishment.
“No matter how bad of a player [a bar] may be, they still have the right to a hearing,” said Bastion, who said part of his job is defending the village in terms of conduct that might get the village sued in federal court. The state law is clear, and unless an establishment is responsible for “something egregious,” that puts people in immediate and serious danger, there has to be an approach of graduated discipline.
However, said Bastion, the village could look at refusing to renew a liquor license if the holder owed debts to the village or if taxes have gone unpaid. The same, he said, could apply to the initial issuance of a liquor license.
Since the 11 p.m. closing time, Aftanas and Gross reported that Madison Street has been “very quiet.” Gross said that typically they’d been getting on average five calls a night. Since the hour reduction, that went down to about two calls a night. “There’s been a noticeable reduction,” Aftanas said.
Bastion reminded the committee that the village council can always move the hours back to an 11 p.m. closing time if hours are expanded and problems pop up again.