Special licensing meeting reviews demerit point system

A special meeting was held after the regular Licensing/Permit Committee meeting last night to discuss Chapter 10 of the Code of General Ordinances for the city of Kenosha.  This chapter has to do with alcoholic beverages.  If you’d like to review this chapter for yourself, click here:  Chapter 10 – Alcoholic Beverages.

Chairman Jesse Downing stated that the purpose of this meeting was to seek the input of both the public and the commissioners on the topic of revamping the city’s demerit point system.  Public comments were then solicited.  Shirley Wylie, owner of Clay’s Tavern, made comments having to do with minors. She didn’t believe that minors should be ticketed for both loitering and underage drinking.  Kerry Raymond, owner of Sir Arthur’s Beer Gardens, stated, “I believe the whole point system should be scrapped.  It’s a penalty, but we’ve been told that it merely tracks a business’ progress.  That’s the biggest problem.  Even if my ticket drops, the points are still there.”

Guida Brown, Executive Director of the Hope Council, spoke on behalf of the Kenosha Healthy Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Subcommittee.  Her only comment was that she was asked to relay the request that the demerit points for an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) increase to 50 points (up from 20 points).  A criminal OWI is currently given 40 points.

Alderperson Anthony Kennedy addressed Raymond’s comment.  “The tracking system is not supposed to be punitive.”  Raymond then stated, “Anything that can revoke my liquor license, the points, is a penalty.  The points are a penalty.”  Then, Matt Knight, deputy city attorney was called upon to answer the question, “Is it a tracking system or a penalty?”  Knight’s response pointed to Chapter 125 of the Wisconsin State Statutes having to do with alcohol beverages.  Click here if you’d like to review these statutes for yourself:  Chapter 125 – Alcohol Beverages.  “If an establishment incurs more than two violations a year, their license can be revoked.  Greater than two violations equals 80 points.  There is no basis to revoke.  The point system tracks the progress of a business as it is being assessed points for violations.  It provides an objective way to how a business or a person is doing with their license.  This becomes an objective standard by which we can measure a business’s progress,” said Knight.

Kennedy pointed out that some violations don’t have the same points.  He even suggested getting rid of the varying points mentioned in Chapter 10 for the various violations and making them all equal.  Then, if an establishment incurs three violations, it would simply lead to a revocation.

Knight then led the discussion to the “vicarious liability” issue for agent’s employees’ violations.  This has to do with a bartender being cited for serving alcohol to an underage person, for example, and receiving a citation.  Ultimately, the licensing agent (the bar owner) is responsible.  For the agent to say that they are not responsible, and then to fire the bartender who is accumulating points against their license, is skirting the issue.  “They’re just playing a game,” said Juliana.

It was agreed that applicants don’t read the application, they don’t read Kenosha’s Chapter 10, and they definitely don’t read the State’s Chapter 125.  Alderperson Patrick Juliana commented, “They want us to do all the work for them.”  Knight said that, “We should not be accepting incomplete applications.  There are five or six clerks down in the Clerk’s Office.  Some of them know what to look for, and some of them don’t.  It just makes more work for me.  We would be better off giving them demerit points for submitting a false application and sending them through.”

Kennedy stated that, “It’s not the intention of the committee to create more work for you” (meaning Knight).

Kenosha Police Department deputy captain Lewis Lindquist was on hand.  He was asked to comment on the issue of issuing citations to minors loitering.  “Yes, they are issued two separate tickets.  It’s not permissible for them to be there.  Some will say there are the designated driver, that the bartender didn’t serve them, etc.  We need both citations.  Then, the city attorney can prosecute both, or only one of the citations.  The kid gets the same two tickets.  If a person comes in with a fake ID, the bar is not charged.”

Juliana said that it’s too bad that  problems come from less than ten percent of the bar owners in the city.  Raymond was cited as a good bar owner.  But, he still didn’t think it was right that he should have to “eat” the points once the ticket has been dismissed.  He stated that he feels “looped in” with other bad bar owners.

A new member of the committee, Alderperson Chris Schwartz, stated that the thing that has bothered her most has been the inconsistency of the committee in what it recommends to the Common Council.  Sometimes, the committee brings forward a person with 360 points accumulated with driving offenses, and they are recommending to the Common Council that this person obtain a license.  Then, a person with 120 points in accumulated points is denied.

Knight said that the committee has “built-in discretion.”  That is the purpose of the committee, to closely review the applicants and make their recommendations to the Common Council.  Alderperson Curt Wilson, another new committee member, made the comment that “not all people are the same.  The way they present themselves is important.  We are not the final say.  The Common Council can overrule us.  We don’t have a huge problem.  People have a problem with the way they conduct themselves.”

Kennedy stated that he is a big proponent of the “Who are you today?” mindset.  If a bar owner trusts a person enough to say that he/she will hire that person, “that goes a long way with me.”  He stated that he doesn’t want the police department to do anything different from what it’s doing now.  “We have no control over what happens in court.  Points are issued.  Basically, I believe we have the companion issue, and the two tickets for one.”

Knight stated that it’s an enforcement issue.  Language can be added to the city’s code to the effect that “A single event shall not generate more than X points.  Then, when a person or an establishment reaches 100 points, a revocation hearing is held.  That doesn’t guarantee the outcome.  That’s where the subjectiveness comes in.  When the revocation hearing comes up, the person can explain his/her individual situation.”

Raymond stated that the city attorney’s office has always been very helpful and informative whenever he has had to deal with them on questions, etc.  “I appreciate (Matt) Knight and the Clerk’s Office.  All the tools are right there on the application.  If you can’t understand it, go ask a question.  It’s the owner’s desire.”  Also, he stated that the on-line server course shouldn’t even be accepted.  “One of them issues you a certificate the minute you pay a fee.”  Downing said that the city is forced to accept what the state accepts.

Downing then adjourned the more than an hour-long meeting.  Additional discussions will be held in the future.  Stay tuned for more information.

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