The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Liquor Control Commission Meeting Summary

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As I reported last night, the Liquor Control Commission renewed Fat Patties’ liquor license at its special meeting Tuesday night. The meeting began with a summary of past events by city attorney Mike Kimmel, who told commissioners that the sole issue blocking the Fat Patties liquor license is owner Lance Jack’s status as a city council member. Jack’s attorney Alfred Sanders Jr. spoke next, providing the council members with documents supporting the legality of Jack’s liquor license.

After a few questions from the commissioners, Mayor Fritzler called for a motion. Commissioner Chris Wissmann made a motion to approve the license renewal and commissioner Corene McDaniel seconded. The commission moved to discussion, with commissioner Don Monty making the first comments.

Monty recounted the history of Carbondale’s unique liquor commission and clarified the objections that led to his vote against renewal at last week’s meeting. Monty felt last week that there hadn’t been sufficient time to consider the issues raised by a council member holding a liquor license. During the week between the meetings, Monty read the Illinois liquor code from cover to cover and reached the conclusion that state law doesn’t prohibit Jack from holding a liquor license.

That left the matter of local law. The law is somewhat ambiguous and Monty wants to see it clarified that a city council member can hold a restaurant liquor license so long as he or she abstains from votes concerning liquor and does not serve on the liquor commission. Monty added that he believes a majority of the council will support making the necessary changes to city code and he doesn’t believe it would be a good use of city resources to defend a denial of the Fat Patties license.

Commissioner Lee Fronaberger commented next, noting that the potential conflict of interest prompted his vote against renewal at last week’s meeting. Fronabarger expressed his support for clarifying the city code.

Commissioner Jane Adams reiterated her comments from last week’s meeting. Adams said that entertainment is a major industry in Carbondale and many of our most dynamic businesspersons hold liquor licenses. In Adams’ view, it isn’t in the city’s interest to bar those business owners from serving on the city council.

Commissioner Chris Wissmann cited the 2005 changes to local liquor code and the accompanying manager’s report. Wissmann noted that the manager’s report made it clear that a council member can hold a liquor license. Although that language didn’t make it into city code, Wissmann cited the manager’s report as evidence of legislative intent. Wissmann said he’d be open to amending city code to clarify the issue, but said the changes aren’t necessary to grant the Fat Patties renewal.

Commissioner Corene McDaniel expressed her hope that the Fat Patties issue can finally be laid to rest. McDaniel said that Carbondale should welcome businesses and that there is no reason to deny Jack a license for Fat Patties. She also expressed support for amending the city code to make it clear that a city council member can hold a restaurant liquor license.

Mayor Fritzler noted that he did vote in favor of Jack’s license after Jack left the council last year. He said that his vote against the renewal isn’t a vote against Jack; it is a vote to uphold the law as he sees it. Fritzler also said that he will ask the city manager to review the city code and suggest changes that would clearly allow a council member to have a restaurant liquor license.

Discussion closed and the commission voted 5-1 to renew the Fat Patties liquor license, with Fritzler providing the sole vote against renewal.

I want to commend commissioners Fronabarger and Monty. It’s not always easy to change your vote. After considering the issue for a week, both Monty and Fronabarger decided that a council member holding a liquor license does not violate the law, and they voted to renew the Fat Patties license. It was the reasonable, pragmatic vote, and I’m glad they were willing to change course.

I’ll also praise Mayor Fritzler. He was gracious when his position failed to command a majority, and he promised to work with the council and city staff to make the necessary changes to city code. I don’t agree with Fritzler’s reasoning on this issue, but that isn’t important. What’s important is that Fritzler thinks his reasoning is sound. He voted his conscience and, although I disagree with his vote, I respect it.

I thought it was a nice touch that Fritzler pointed out that he has no personal objection to Jack holding a liquor license. I’m hopeful that this will help restore a more friendly tone at council meetings.

I’ll note one other thing. When Fritzler promised to ask the city manager to review the code and suggest changes, commissioner Wissmann asked Fritzler to send the proposed changes to the Liquor Advisory Board. Fritzler replied with a smile and a friendly chuckle and agreed that the changes would go to the Liquor Advisory Board before going to the council. I think that’s a good sign that the upcoming changes to the liquor code will go smoothly.

Comments are welcome.

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