Responsible Village Government (Part 3): Issuance of Liquor Licenses

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In 2009, new Trustee Clark Hopkins wrote the following on a website:  “First, I believe Germantown Hills should have an unlimited number of liquor licenses available.”  He went on to write, “I believe any business in Germantown Hills who QUALIFIES for a liquor license should be able to obtain a license.”

That sounds very pro-business, doesn’t it?  But is it good Village policy?  The previous and current Village Attorneys, and many others, recommend against that approach?  Let’s explore why.

Most people understand that a license to sell alcoholic beverages is really a license to sell a legalized drug.  People are often hurt and sometimes die when alcohol is misused, and often the person who dies in a car crash isn’t even the person who misused the alcohol. 

Furthermore, the sale of alcoholic beverages is managed by the holder of the liquor license.  So whether he or she abides by the laws that prevent the sale of alcoholic beverages to a minor, or to someone so inebriated that they could be a driving risk, depends almost completely on the willingness of that merchant to abide by the rule of law.

Also, in Illinois, the state liquor code gives municipalities complete latitude in how many liquor licenses that they wish to create for their village.  They are not required to have any, and they can have as many as they want. 

But once a license is created, the municipality has almost no control over who gets the license.  If an applicant is not a felon, and is willing to pay the license fee, and meets a few other requirements of the state statute (mostly just having paid their taxes), then the Mayor as Liquor Commissioner is required to issue the license to that applicant.

It is for all of these reasons that responsible municipalities do not keep “unlimited,” or even any, spare licenses available.  A smart municipality quickly votes to eliminate any unused license.  And when a new applicant is interested in obtaining a license, it is wise for the Village Board to interview the candidate, look into his/her history and experience, and find out what he/she intends to do with the license, before it is created.  A responsible Village Board will do this to protect the safety of its residents.

So let’s see how this has worked with the veteran Village Board, and contrast that with a recent situation orchestrated by the new regime.

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In 2008, a business in Germantown Hills repeatedly broke one of the Village ordinances.  Worse yet, it refuse to abide by the ordinance even when it was brought to their attention by the Village Board.  And while this was all going on, that business requested that it be issued a liquor license.  All of this is in the public record. 

Given those circumstances, and what we’ve discussed above, would it have been a good decision to immediately issue a liquor license to that business?  Of course not.  Issuing a license to someone who is already breaking the law, and resisting efforts to come into compliance, raises serious questions about whether the business is inclined to abide by the rule of law at all. 

So the Village worked the issue of the ordinance violations before the liquor license was considered.  The owner, frustrated with the time that took, threatened the Village Board with a lawsuit to get a liquor license.  That gave the Village government even more to be concerned about. 

Over time this issue was resolved, as the business came into compliance with the ordinance, and was provided a legal means to have liquor served on their premises.  Eventually it received its own liquor license.

But perhaps not surprisingly, the owners of that business have strongly supported the new regime Mayor and Trustees in their political campaigns in 2009 and now, calling the previous Village Board “anti-business,” and leading vigorous efforts to have the Germantown Hills Chamber of Commerce endorse the new regime candidates.

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Now for the recent example:  At last Thursday’s Village Board meeting, for the first time ever, the new Mayor put an item on the agenda to create a new liquor license even before the applicant’s identity was known to the Village Board.  Furthermore, the Village Attorney had been directed by the Mayor to have an ordinance ready for passage at the meeting.  We were told that the reason for all of this was that negotiations were underway between a landlord (another prominent Chamber member) and a potential tenant who wanted the liquor license to be created before he would agree to sign a lease. 

But for the Village to create an ordinance with only this much information would be irresponsible, for the same reasons as discussed above.  It should never have been put on the agenda.  (In this particular case, the lease deal had apparently not been struck by the time of the Village Board meeting, so no action was  taken). 

Situations similar to this have occurred in the past.  But instead of the Village creating a license for someone they hadn’t even met, the business parties were simply instructed to write a contract between themselves that allowed the tenant to back out of the lease if the liquor license was not issued by the Village later.  That approach protected the new tenant, while giving the Village government the time to meet the applicant, ask questions about the purpose of the liquor license (e.g. restaurant, bar, adult entertainment), the proprietor’s past experience running a business selling alcohol, and how he planned to manage liquor sales safely in Germantown Hills. 

Would creating the license before the Village performed their due diligence be seen as “pro-business” from the standpoint of the landlord and tenant?  Perhaps it would. 

But would that have been an appropriate way for the Village Board to operate?  Not at all, if the Village Board was interested in the safety of the residents of the Village.

The theme of this series of articles is entitled “Responsible Village Government.”  The two examples discussed here clearly show why a responsible Village Board, looking out first for the needs of the residents, can still provide what business really need. 

Voters need to decide if they want thoughtful and balanced leadership, or if they prefer Trustees who would give business owners everything they want at first asking, even if that put the Village residents at risk.  

This will be the voters’ choice on April 5th.

 

          Mike Gaetz                                                     Terry Quinn

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