It appears that the city and downtown St. Charles bar owners have reached an agreement that will keep bars open until 2 a.m. but make strides toward combatting drunken brawls, public intoxication and the over-serving of alcohol to customers.
There remain a number of details to work out, but Mayor Donald DeWitte and Police Chief Jim Lamkin told the council the results of two meetings with local bar owners have been productive. DeWitte specifically praised the bar owners for not only coming to the table with the city to talk, but also to listen to the city’s concerns.
“We have compiled a list of some things that we really believe would improve things if we put these in place,” Lamkin told the City Council committee. Some items on the list, however, would take time, he added.
With the recommendations of DeWitte and Lamkin, the City Council, which met Monday evening as the Government Service Committee agreed to table until Nov. 26 DeWitte’s original plan for dealing with the problems — by cutting back the city’s bar hours from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m.
While some details must be worked out yet, Lamkin and Russ Whitaker, the Naperville attorney representing about a dozen downtown liquor license holders, laid out key elements of the proposal to the City Council committee.
Central to the plan is formation of a downtown tavern owners association — which Whitaker first broached with the City Council on Sept. 4. The association would work with the city and police department to establish guidelines and rules governing how bars would manage themselves in an effort to reduce the problems that have concerned city officials.
In some ways, the association would serve as a self-policing body, Lamkin and Whitaker explained, fining members who fail to uphold the guidelines. The association would not, however, take over the city’s statutory responsibilities. In other words, it is conceivable a tavern could be fined by the city for a liquor code violation regardless of whether the association moves to fine the owner.
One issue that seemed of concern to the aldermen, however, is that the city cannot force all tavern owners to join the association. At best, Lamkin and Whitaker explained, the city can encourage bar owners to join the association.
Whitaker said it would take time to form the association, which would need to be incorporated.
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Later, Lamkin said, city officials would bring before the council some ordinance amendments to increase fines for public fighting, public intoxication and public urination. The proposal includes raising the fine for fighting to $500, accompanied by a ban of the individual from all bars in the tavern association.
Lamkin also said there was significant discussion between the city and tavern owners about last call, last service, and when drinks should be off the table before bars close: Last call would be at 1:20 a.m., when no new customers would be allowed to enter, and patrons would be limited to one drink per customer for that final round; drinks would be off the table by 1:40 a.m. and all patrons would be out the door by 2 a.m.
In all, the list Lamkin and Whitaker took before the aldermen had 15 elements — but many items encompassed multiple parts as well, including small details like having signs posted in each association tavern, detailing the rules both the establishment and its patrons are expected to follow.
Whitaker characterized the talks leading to the proposal as fruitful discussion, with both the city and the owners offering points they hope would lead to resolving the problems.
He added the association in particular ought to be particularly productive — by acting as the point agency, it could ensure the “free flow of information back and forth between the city and the association.”
“Thee’s a little bit of a process here, but we do have unanimous agreement among the owners I represent … and we have reached out to others,” Whitaker told the aldermen.
Over the next 90 days, the city and tavern owners hope to refine the proposal, he said.
The summary by Lamkin and Whitaker seemed to impress the aldermen, some of whom were openly skeptical when the tavern owners first pleaded with the council earlier this month to delay reducing bar hours until some talks were held.
Still, if there is one sticking point aldermen seemed to share, it is that the city cannot force all bars to become members of the association, particularly if the association is serious about establishing and enforcing guidelines.
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