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