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St. Charles Bars, Restaurants Win Reprieve

St. Charles City Council tables proposal to cut back closing time to 1 a.m. pending talks with owners on steps to quell incidences drunken brawls, intoxicated subjects.

St. Charles bar and tavern owners won a 20-day reprieve Tuesday night during which they will be expected to outline what they will do to stave off drunken brawls and end overserving of alcoholic beverages to their patrons or face a citywide 1 a.m. closing time.

The city’s Class B and Class C liquor license holders are allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. under St. Charles’ ordinance. But the weekend of Aug. 3 saw a jump in the number of drunken brawls — including assaults on police officers, as well as a spike in the number of intoxicated persons reports. Mayor Donald DeWitte said that in the case of the street fights, officers included in their reports that, in their opinions, individuals involved were extremely intoxicated.

The bar fights were one concern, but the drunkenness of the individuals involved indicated the bars and taverns were failing to take the proper precautions to ensure patrons were not being over-served alcoholic beverages, the mayor told the council’s . Consequently, he proposed changing the city’s closing time back to 1 a.m.

The move apparently shocked liquor license holders, who turned out en masse for Tuesday night’s meeting in City Hall. Naperville attorney Russ Whitaker spoke on behalf of 11 establishments as he pleaded with the City Council to delay final action on the proposal.

He met with frank skepticism.

Whitaker said cutting back St. Charles’ bar hours would create a hardship on the businesses by giving a competitive advantage to bars and taverns in neighboring communities that have 2 a.m. closing times. He also said his understanding of the city’s decision to extend bar hours to 2 a.m. In the first place was a concession to liquor license holders after the city imposed a 2 percent tax on liquor dealers.

He asked the council to give the bar and tavern owners an opportunity to respond. “Engage us in a dialogue,” he urged the council.

Whitaker also noted that his clients were caught unaware by DeWitte’s proposal and had little time to react. He said his clients uniformly want to create a St. Charles restaurant and tavern association to establish an ongoing dialogue with the city that does not exist now.

In terms of the fights, Whitaker said his clients have suggested establishing a list of people in fights and excluding them from admittance in future. He said his clients also want a clear definition of the term “overserving,” and suggested meetings with DeWitte, Police Chief James Lamkin and City Administrator Brian Townsend.

“We have ideas … Give us the opportunity to have a dialogue with you,” he said.

But the questions and some comments that came from the council indicated skepticism, if not outright disbelief on their parts.

“I don’t want to hear about a restaurant association … I want to hear how you’re going to monitor who is being served,” DeWitte said.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner specifically pointed to a meeting between the council and bar owners in May at which overserving was discussed in depth. She also noted that during that meeting, the liquor license holders were asked specifically who benefits from being open the extra hour until 2 a.m., and only one or two indicated they did.

Alderiwoman Maureen Lewis, 5th Ward, said she, too, thought the council laid out its concerns very clearly at the meeting in May.

Their statements were echoed by DeWitte.

Both 3rd Ward aldermen expressed their skepticism as well. Alderman William Turner said he could not accept Whitaker’s statements that bar owners could not respond earlier, saying the opportunity was there. And Alderman Raymond Rogina, referring to Whitaker’s remarks about the extended bar hours being a concession for the 2 percent tax increase, said that from 2010, when the 2 a.m. closing time was initiated, through 2012, St. Charles has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of reports for fights and intoxicated subjects.

“You must concede that we have to think about what is best for the entire community, not one segment of the community,” he said.

Still, Whitaker’s remarks persuaded some members of the council enough that they agreed to table the ordinance until Sept. 24, but even they expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

“We’re really tired of fights downtown … and it’s not just college kids,” said 2nd Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignan.

“This is a tough situation for us … there are people who live nearby,” added 1st Ward Alderman Dan Stellato, although he, too, said he could agree to a delay.

The motion to table passed 5-4, with Aldermen Turner, Rogina, 4th Ward Alderman James E. Martin and 4th Ward Alderwoman Jo Krieger voting no. Alderman Ed Bessner, 5th Ward, abstained.

Townsend, the city administrator, said he, Mayor DeWitte and Police Chief Jim Lamkin would schedule one or two meetings with representatives of the bar and tavern owners to discuss the issues prior to the Sept. 24 City Council meeting.

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Henry James September 05, 2012 at 01:37 PM
As I have stated before something needs to be done, but closing an hour early is not the real solution. Not saying I am opposed to it being part of the solution, but it isn't going to stop the problem. I am glad to see that Aldermen Carrignan and Stellato pushed to open discussion with the owners. Open government is what is needed. Sit down and discuss solutions and implement a plan that everyone has a say in so everyone can buy into it. I do think the City needs to determine where those involved in fighting or other instances were and fine those bars. A 40 percent increase in these issues is insane. I also go back to saying No More Licenses downtown. There are too many bars.
David Amundson September 05, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Henry - I totally agree. Businesses need a stable environment in which to operate, and snapping the chain on them in an erratic fashion is not a solution. What was and is sorely needed here is vision. Vision was certainly lacking when we issued so many liquor licenses to so many bars and "restaurant/taverns" (known by the term "bar" in any other jurdisdiction). Now that we finally see the results of what we have brought upon ourselves, we are starting to sober up a bit; too bad we did not have the foresight to see what we were willingly doing to our town in the first place. Now is the time for a liquor licensing ordinance that actually differentiates between establishments that exist primarily to serve alcohol, but happen to also serve food from those that exist primarily to serve food, but also happen to serve alcohol. There should always be room for both in town, but just not in the ratio that currently exist. Once we have that clear differentiation in place in our laws, we should stop issuing new liquor licenses to bars, and issue them only to restaurants, until some sense of balance is achieved again.
Elizabeth R September 05, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I also feel if there is an arrangement with bars and the City, any bar that breaks it should be severely penalized like loss of license for 60 days 1st offense, 180 days for 2nd and completely after the 3rd. These guys have no excuse for over serving, and not being able to identify patrons who may be becoming a problem. The issue is then there needs to be a way bar owners can communicate immediately between each other when they toss someone so that person doesn't simply wander down the street into the next establishment and cause problems there. Bars need to work together like they seem to be doing hiring this Atty. Therebshould be ZERO tolerance after this if they come to terms and agree. NO EXCUSES for those that fail to comply!
Ted Schnell (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 04:55 PM
That's certainly one way of looking at it. However, if I'm not mistaken, the courts have put the onus on liquor sellers in DUI crash cases, for example, where the establishment continued to serve an intoxicated customer and then let him/her drive away, only to cause an accident. Is this issue really any different -- except that instead of driving a vehicle, the impaired individuals are wielding their fists, which means someone else is getting hurt in the process and, in at least one instance, a police officer has been assaulted. I don't see much of a difference, except that a vehicle is not involved.
Brian Doyle September 06, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I think the difference here Ted is that attributing responsibility to particular business owners and/or bartenders is not always possible. Rather, when drunken and disorderly behavior becomes a general nuisance and a danger to the public, then amendments to the licensing standards are warranted. This is the basis of all government regulation--recognizing that some activity is adverse to the public welfare. Individual blame may or may not be applicable. Either way, bar owners will find themselves facing new restrictions if they can't control and/or contain the "neighborhood effects" (see Milton Friedman) of their transactions with customers.
Henry James September 06, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I also think the point here is the overserving. This is the bar owner's responsibility. It is obvious when someone should be cut off most of the time, but they continue to keep serving. The attorney admitted this was an issue. I know everyone wants to make as much money as they can but eventurally you have to say no. So yes it does mean more regulation will need to be added but it is because some not all owners refuse to be responsible. I again note that limiting the number of licenses must happen as well. Too many bars in one area bring this type of issue no matter how hard you try to curtail it. When people say this feels like a college town it isn't a compliment.
Brian Doyle September 06, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Dillon: Alcohol is a controlled substance that impairs judgment. When science determines that use of cell phones changes our brain chemistry, we can have that debate. In the meantime, I don't think it's a fair analogy.
Lois Lane September 06, 2012 at 09:49 PM
The corner of Rt. 31 and Main street has been called Whiskey Bend since way back when the streetcars made their turn to cross the bridge. St. Charles has always had a large number of bars so I don't think that's the issue. I do feel the majority of the problems relate to overserving by these establishments. Perhaps the bars should beef up their own security staff and put a stop to trouble before it gets out the door. Give STPD a break for a change and help by policing your own place of business.
Brian Doyle September 08, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Dillon: Then why are you posting here?

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