Liquor license quota ends

Photo by Lukas Zeman via stock.xchng

Photo by Lukas Zeman via stock.xchng

At Monday night’s Common Council meeting, it was approved by a vote of 10 to 4 to repeal a section of the city’s zoning ordinance requiring certain distances  be kept between retail liquor license holders.  Instead, the penalties for violating any of the ordinance’s rules became harsher.

At first, Alderperson Rocco LaMacchia wanted to defer the vote for two weeks.  The agenda item before this one had to do with who could appear on behalf of a license holder in front of licensing disciplinary hearings. That item was deferred for two weeks due to the absence of the chairperson of the Licensing & Permit Committee (Alderperson Jesse Downing).  (Read more about this item below.)

Alderperson Anthony Kennedy said that the work doesn’t stop because the sponsor is not here.  Alderperson Kevin Mathewson also said that he would not support the deferral.  He said that he was voting yes.

Alderperson Daniel Prozanski said that he felt that it was not a bad idea to defer.  The sponsor might want to add to the conversation.  “I can see it both ways,” he said.

A roll call vote on the deferral failed by a vote of 5 to 9.  The roll call vote on the motion itself was approved by a vote of 10 to 4.  Those voting against were Alderpersons Jan Michalski, G. John Ruffolo, Anthony Kennedy, and Steve Bostrom.

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The agenda item having to do with disciplinary hearings met with more discussion.  Ray Misner, former alderperson, and president of LCS Consulting (Licensing & Community Standards Consultants of Wisconsin), spoke.  He said that this ordinance change says that only licensed attorneys are the only people that can appear before the committee on behalf of the licensee.  He stated that he felt that this was a personal attack on him.  He stated that he has been the subject of harassment from this body, and it has extended to his family and its security.

He stated that he has seen on social media that “clients have fared better if they were represented by someone other than myself.”  He further stated that his scorecard on his clients and their cases has been 100% accurate.  “I told them beforehand that they’d lose,” he said.  He said that he has represented greater than 25 clients in the city.  He said that the Council should “let businesses prosper, stop over-taxing, and over-regulating.”

Misner said that he never presented himself as an attorney.  “I’ve only done what state law allows me to do.  I’ve provided services to my clients.  I have a long-term role with my clients, which includes training programs.  Less than 5% of my business is representing clients before hearing boards.  It’s not a matter for this body to consider.  Every case is reviewed by an attorney.  I even consulted with Attorney Terry Rose on one case.  I am well qualified to represent my clients.  I spent six years on the Licensing & Permit Committee.  It’s not an easy committee to serve on.  You earn yourself plenty of enemies.  I also attend licensing seminars.  This ordinance has tremendous holes in it.”

He went on to cite information that non-lawyers are unauthorized to practice law.  It failed to prove, so it went to the Supreme Court.  Even Milwaukee will be changing their ordinance to honor the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling.  It’s OK to have people represent.  He provided a copy of a document that he wanted entered into the record.  He said that the state already took action on this issue.  “No one was harmed.  To go after me is ridiculous.”  He mentioned two witnesses in a bar, and the Council having personal vendettas against him.  “Do your job,” he said.

Alderperson David Bogdala said that he spoke to Downing, and he relayed that Downing wanted to make one amendment.  He was 100% in favor of deferring the vote.  The amendment was to add the language, “or any other person where there is a contractual client relationship of trust or reliance.”  He cited the rationale as being the Supreme court decision.  The language comes from it.  He felt that was in the spirit of the ordinance.  He wanted to make sure someone had an actual relationship with the business.  He wanted it to coincide with the Supreme Court decision.

LaMacchia wanted to know if the amendment was viable and something the Council could deal with.  Ed Antaramian, city attorney, replied that, as the citizen speaker said, “the Supreme Court has already placed a general prohibition on people to practice law.  There are exceptions to that, however, and that is when someone appears before a tribunal or agency.  It will help underscore the exception.  To the extent prohibited by tribunal or agency, it’s accepting of non-lawyer representation.”  LaMacchia said that he was willing to defer for two weeks until the maker of the ordinance was present.

Alderperson Jan Michalski wanted to vote on it now.  He said that Bogdala talked to Downing.  “He doesn’t like the ordinance as presently written.  He’s willing to defer.”

Alderperson Patrick Juliana wanted to know what time Bogdala had talked to Downing.  The reply was Wednesday or Thursday or last week.  Juliana then stated that he received a phone call from Downing that afternoon at 2:45 pm and the two talked about agenda items.  He said that Downing was not in favor of it.  He said that the Council should vote for a deferral to clear this up.  “This would give the legal staff time to research this tonight.  In the past, we voted on state law, and then we were later trumped by federal law.”

Alderperson G. John Ruffolo questioned the reasoning for this ordinance change.  Juliana said that months ago, they had individuals coming before the committee not understanding the process.  They then researched other municipalities, like Milwaukee.  They just wanted to clear up what was put forward.  Ruffolo questioned further.  “Was there some sort of problem?”  Prozanski, serving as the president of the Council due to the mayor’s and Alderperson’s Eric Haugaard’s absences, tried to quash the questioning.  The discussion then got a little heated, as Ruffolo said that he “won’t be silenced by this committee.  This has relevance to the deferral vote.  We never had this issue before.  I sat on this committee for years,” he said.

Juliana then repeated himself.  “I’ll speak slowly and clearly.  Who came before us?  Nortap, Hot Wings, Bragados.  These were licensed establishments that didn’t understand the process.  This took it out.  It doesn’t preclude people from speaking.  It doesn’t take away from that.  This is a clear answer.  It was researched and discussed.  There is not one individual to attack.”

Ruffolo said that a person could also represent himself.  “What’s wrong with that?  There is no clear answer.”  Alderperson Scott Gordon said that he would vote for the deferral.  Bogdala then said that he just spoke to Downing on the phone.  He was sick in bed.  Downing said that he had no problem deferring it for two weeks.  Kennedy said he was willing to give a little leeway.  He would support the deferral.

Kennedy then said that he would like to send the question to the Council’s counsel, Mr. Cain.  “Is this representing the spirit or the letter of the law?”  He felt that “the amendment defeated the spirit of what we’re trying to do.  This is for disciplinary hearings only.  It’s a gray area.  Who can represent who.   It’s for people who don’t speak English, for example.  We gave a lot of leeway.  This affords greater protection to the applicant.  Please support the deferral.  And, also, come to the Licensing & Permit committee meeting when this gets discussed so that we are all speaking from the same sheet of music, and our constituents are well served.”

Alderperson Michael Orth said that “there was no harm in deferring for two weeks.  Downing said that he even preferred that.  Also,” he said, “the ordinance change is being proposed by the Licensing & Permit Committee, not one person.  Let the Licensing & Permit Committee vet the change.”

Bogdala said he sent an e-mail.  Downing now has a problem with the “any other person” language.  And, Downing is in favor of the deferral.  The voice vote taken was in favor of the deferral.

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