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Stein: Enforce, Not Reform St. Charles Liquor Code

Mayoral candidate said the mayor just needs to enforce the law; Wyatt likes reform but wants questions answered.

In a city where liquor dealers already are tense over the St. Charles City Council’s stance on downtown alcohol-related problems, things could get a little more so once there’s a new sheriff — er, mayor — in town.

Whether the tension does increase remains to be seen, but St. Charles’ mayoral candidates agree the city needs to draw the line more clearly and enforce the law more strictly.

On one side of the line is 3rd Ward Alderman Ray Rogina, who this week proposed revamping the city’s liquor code to more clearly distinguish the difference between liquor licenses for restaurants and those for bars, to plainly delineate what penalties are in order for various infractions, and to subject 2 a.m. liquor licenses to annual approval based on an establishment’s good behavior.

Jake Wyatt, another mayoral candidate, supports Rogina’s idea., and candidate John Rabchuk said there was no need for him to comment on Rogina’s call for liquor code reforms.

But candidate Jotham Stein, an attorney, waded into the debate with the idea that there is no need for liquor code reform. Instead, he says, the liquor code needs to be enforced.

“In St. Charles, the mayor is the liquor commissioner,” Stein wrote in an email to St. Charles Patch. “We don’t need a change in the liquor laws. We need a mayor who will enforce the laws. As mayor (and as a lawyer), I will ensure that the law is strictly enforced against those who break the law.”

Rogina sketched out his thoughts on the reform Monday, during the City Council Government Services Committee meeting, which included a report by Police Chief Jim Lamkin and St. Charles Tavern Association spokesman Steve Baginski, the owner of , on the progress they feel has been made toward reining in some of the alcohol-related problems in the downtown after 1 a.m.

The report was met by a still skeptical City Council, and Rogina’s Monday night remarks, which he fleshed out and presented Tuesday as his initiative to reform the liquor code, were in the same context of skepticism.

“As a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience,” Stein wrote, “I was stunned and saddened by Mr. Rogina’s statement at the city committee’s meeting last (Monday) night — quoted in the Kane County Chronicle today — that ‘When no one’s (no bar downtown) is culpable, everyone’s culpable (all bar’s are guilty).’ In America — and here in St. Charles — we do not convict any group because of the wrongdoings of one or more of its members.”

“Most of the patrons of the downtown bars are law-abiding citizens who pay good money for food and drink, and bring significant tax revenue to our city,” Stein wrote. “I want these law-abiding citizens to keep coming to downtown. We must, however, strictly enforce the law against those patrons and bar owners who break the law. As mayor, I will ensure that those who break the law are punished.”

Wyatt, on the other hand, favored the reforms Rogina has proposed.

“I agree with Alderman Rogina’s comments about it's time to revisit our liquor codes,” Wyatt said. “It was obvious at Monday night’s meeting that several of the aldermen had issues with the report and extended hour for closing. The question I have to ask. ‘Why is this just now coming about (that) we are questioning St. Charles liquor codes and why was this not discussed back when the extra hour was added to closing?’”

The retired Army colonel said he left Monday’s meeting with more questions than answers on the issue.

“I have two challenges or questions to pose: 1) I would be interested to hear from Chief Lamkin as to what statistical data the city has about crime or violence when closing was 1 a.m. versus 2 a.m. and the difference; and 2) with the downtown bars having the extra hour, what impact in revenue versus expenses (bottom line — net profit) the extra hour gave their respective businesses,” Wyatt wrote.

“I am a father of three sons who grew up around the world with different cultures and beliefs when it came to drinking ages, but the constants I had as a father were: 1) no consumption of liquor till you reach the legal age; 2) no operating any type of motorized vehicle involving liquor; and 3) nothing good happens after midnight,” Wyatt continued. “I supported strict enforcement of curfew laws with allowances for special events.  I am a nondrinker, but it does not mean I do not support businesses that sell liquor. I support establishing liquor codes and laws with strict adherence to those codes and laws.   Sometimes we have to question ‘Is that extra dollar worth the aggravation?’ ”

Stein: Focus on Business

Stein, who has focused his campaign platform on economic development, faulted Rogina’s call for reform as missing the mark in terms of what the city really needs — both downtown and elsewhere.

“Downtown is distressingly empty of businesses. Downtown is full of vacant storefronts (empty shops) and empty office space, and a half-completed First Street Development,” Stein wrote, “for this reason, I am not comfortable with the mix of businesses downtown. The answer, however, is not to shut down the taverns, but instead to work with those who own and manage the empty buildings downtown to recruit lots of new businesses to our downtown.

“By filling all of the downtown's retail and office vacancies, we will increase the vitality and economic health of downtown, and as a result, have a better mix of businesses there,” he continued. “Over time less successful bars will be replaced by more profitable businesses, such as shops or restaurants, because it will make sense for the new businesses to open in place of the less successful bars.”

Related:

  • Jan. 29, 2013: Rogina Pitches St. Charles Liquor Code Reforms



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Elizabeth R January 31, 2013 at 01:16 PM
I agree with Stein about rebuilding the business climate, but I don't think he has seriously looked at our liquor laws. Geneva for years has made it almost impossible to operate a "Tavern" making them serve plenty of food to balance it out. They do not have the issues we have. What they are doing is working. What harm does it do to look at this and make sensible changes.Certain bars in town have been allowed to create 80% of the problems for years with our officials looking the other way. Rogina's ideas would finally penalize those bars and reward those who operate correctly. How is that bad?
Elizabeth R January 31, 2013 at 01:24 PM
I also do not think Mr. Stein get's that it will be very difficult if not impossible to revitalize downtown retail if we can't get a handle on the bar issues. Merchants are not going to want to risk vandalism or be willing to wash vomit of their storefronts and sidewalks every morning. What kind of reputation does that send. It already is scaring our own residents and families away from downtown unless there is a fest which only happens twice a year. Simply talk with the merchants who are already here dealing with the impacts of the bar issues.
Henry James January 31, 2013 at 02:56 PM
I have to agree with you Thomas. Yes we need to enforce the laws, but we do need to change the ordinances and the license structure. Mr. Rogina is correct on that fact. It will take both along with cooperation with the owners. I will give credit to both candidates for acknowledging we have problems though and they want to address them.
David Amundson January 31, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Reform is desperately needed on this issue. When an applicant comes before the City and asks for a B-3 liquor license (for restaurants, per the ordinance), we have no idea if that applicant will run the new establishment like a restaurant (with the majority of gross sales receipts in food) or like a bar (with the majority of gross sales receipts in liquor). Worse still, if they do end up running their establishment more like a bar, there is absolutely zero recourse for the City, other than to monitor that they are following State laws regarding the service of liquor (overserving, etc.). Given that, the current ordinance offers the Council exactly zero control in shaping the future of the town, as far as liquor service is concerned; it is in desperate need of reform. Yes, we need to make sure that everybody follows the rules already in place, but the problem is that our current ordinance has a loophole in it that is big enough to drive a beer truck through. I blogged on this subject in greater detail just about a year ago: http://stcharles-il.patch.com/blog_posts/difference-without-a-distinction-860d2b0b
Sandy January 31, 2013 at 11:19 PM
you know they call St. Charles "Rush Street" west...........
David Amundson February 01, 2013 at 07:01 PM
Case and point. We have sold our reputation for relatively few dollars of tax revenue (a fraction of a percent of the City's annual budget). A wise professor I had in college once remarked "funny thing about reputations; you only get to sell them once." While I am not as deeply pessimistic as my professor was, he did make a very good point. We have sold our reputation, and we are now tasked with the huge task of changing the way our downtown functions and then changing people's perceptions of our downtown. We can get our reputation back, but we must start with reform now; it is desperately needed.

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