August 13, 2007

Liquor license violators have chance to appear before Delano City Council

Council enforces three fines, accepts relinquished license in lieu of other

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Emotions ran high as several local liquor license holders explained violations that happened during a compliance check June 27 at Tuesday night’s Delano City Council meeting.

Five businesses that failed in Delano included Delano Wine and Spirits, Juke Box Restaurant, Chun Mee Restaurant, El Cazador Mexican Restaurant, and the Delano Athletic Club.

Representatives from Chun Mee, El Cazador, and the Delano Athletic Club asked to be heard by the council regarding the fines and license suspensions.

“Unfortunately, it happened, and we have to deal with it,” said Mayor Joe McDonald of the violations, adding that the council wanted to hear each of the representatives before making any decisions.

Jorge Muniz of El Cazador, and translator Miguel Muniz, addressed the council first, saying he had checked the ID during the compliance check, but made a mistake in reading it correctly. Since this was El Cazador’s second liquor license violation within three years, and it was not in compliance with the city’s RU21 program, the establishment was facing a fine of $1,500 and a three-day license suspension.

In his letter to the council requesting to appear at the hearing, Jorge Muniz requested a reduction of the fine, and said that since failing the compliance check, an identification scanner has been ordered to “help us make sure that each ID is valid.”

Muniz went on to ask that if the council wasn’t willing to reduce the fine, that he be allowed to make three $500 payments for the fine.

Mary Emery, who was in the audience representing Delano Methamphetamine and Drug Awareness (MEADA), presented information to the council that showed the different identifications produced by the State of Minnesota, and the ones that she said “clearly state ‘under 21.’”

Emery said she had concerns for each license violation as far as the RU21 program. McDonald said he wasn’t sure it was the appropriate venue to hear those concerns, as this was a forum for license holders to appear before the council regarding the license violations, should they choose to do so.

“RU21 is optional,” City Administrator Phil Kern said. “It’s a way for them to have a lesser fine schedule.”

The RU21 program is a program set in place by the city to make sure establishments are responsible when it comes to serving alcohol, and that it is done according to the law. There is an extensive application process needed to be in compliance with the program, and to receive the lesser fees in the event a violation occurs.

John Chun from Chun Mee was the next license holder to appear before the council, and presented a letter written by his employee who was involved in the violation.

He said the waitress was in training, and during the compliance check, went to get co-owner Helen Chun to serve the alcohol, and did not serve the customer herself. In attempting to serve the customer, Helen Chun failed to check identification.

John Chun said he and his wife have been in business in Delano 21 years, that this is the first time they have ever been in a situation like this, and that they “feel very bad about this.”

He likened the situation he was in to being pulled over by a police officer for speeding for the first time, and that he said it is common in the event of a first violation to receive a warning. Chun said cash flow has been very tight lately, and he said he’s not sure how he’ll be able to pay the $750 fine assessed by the city for the violation.

Peg Janzen, representing the Delano Athletic Club, read a statement to the council regarding the volunteers who work for the club.

Janzen said she was the one who made the mistake and served to an underage person.

“I’ve gone back in my mind a hundred times – how could I make that mistake?” she said, adding that she misread the year – mistaking 1989 for 1986.

Since the organization failed a compliance check last summer, it has been trying hard to check everyone, Janzen said.

If the organization’s RU21 status was in effect was also discussed, as Janzen said she and her husband, Jim, drove up north to where President Jack Lynch was on vacation to get his signature on the necessary pages of the application in order to get it complete.

It was noted the organization “makes very little” on beer sales, and said an unintentional error was made by a volunteer who was trying to abide by the law.

Discussion took place about the amount of training received by volunteers who worked for the athletic club selling beer. Emery said she is certified to instruct alcohol awareness classes, and would train all volunteers “free of charge – day or night.”

“It’s not a good excuse to say ‘I miscalculated the date’ – especially when the license says ‘under 21,” Emery said.

Kids not drinking at local restaurants, but rather in private homes

McDonald felt the kids of Delano and the surrounding communities who choose to drink underage are not doing so at local restaurants and baseball games, but rather in private homes.

“The program is flawed, and it’s not hitting where the kids are drinking,” he said of the RU21 program.

McDonald called himself a “softy” and said he could not vote for the full fine amount that was set in place by ordinance. More discussion took place regarding the violations, which shifted back to the athletic club, with Lynch adding “this is a tough spot for everyone.”

“We don’t have the money. Period,” Lynch said, adding that money had been spent on the truck used to drag and maintain fields, a new scoreboard, and other contributions back to the community. The club was facing a fine of $1,500 and a three-day suspension of its license, due to it being its second violation.

“The bottom line is, we know what the rule is,” Lynch said. “We’re asking, please don’t fine us. We’ll just turn in our liquor license.”

Following a bit more discussion, Council Member Larry Bartels made a motion to forgive the fine, being it’s a non-profit group, if the club forfeits its liquor license, which was approved by the council.

Lynch said the club may approach the council in the future should it bid to host a state tournament, but that won’t happen for at least three to six years, Lynch said. It was noted other organizations, such as the Delano Jaycees, may be able to work with the athletic club for selling beer down the road.

Council discussed if the fine would be in effect should the club want to apply for a license in years to come. It was decided that the issue will be revisited if that were to happen.

Returning back to El Cazador, McDonald felt a communication barrier might be part of the reason the restaurant is not in compliance with the RU21 program.

Miguel Muniz said he would assist Jorge Muniz in filling out the RU21 application to become compliant with the city’s program.

The council agreed to allow El Cazador to make the $1,500 fine in increments of $500 payments over a 90-day period, and enforce the three-day license suspension.

A final plea causes a split council vote

John Chun returned to the podium to address the council. His business has decided to not be a part of the RU21 program, because it is too much work for the small amount of alcohol his business sells, he said.

McDonald made a motion to reduce Chun’s fee from $750 to $250, with Council Member Marc Plese seconding the motion.

Bartels asked if a reduction had ever been made in the past for anyone, and it was noted there hasn’t been.

Council Member Brad Hotchkiss felt the ordinance that was passed two years ago was put in effect for a reason, and that the council needs to follow it.

McDonald’s motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with McDonald and Plese voting for the reduced fine, and Hotchkiss, Bartels, and Holly Schrupp voting against it.

Chun said the liquor license is not worth it, and he was not interested in having it anymore.

“I’d request the city give us a break so we can maintain our business,” Chun said. “We’re not doing too well right now.”

“I think we should listen to you and have a little leniency,” McDonald said. “Help you out, and not be so hard-nosed.”

“Our opportunity for leniency is in the RU21 program,” Hotchkiss said. A motion was made and passed on a 3-2 vote for the full fine amount, with a 90-day payment plan being allowed. McDonald and Plese voted against the full fine amount.

Chun continued to ask the council for “forgiveness for the mistake.”

“That’s why pencil comes with eraser,” Chun said. “You have an obligation to help small businesses. Right now, my business needs some help.”

McDonald attempted to make a motion to reconsider the recently passed motion for the full fine amount. Wright County Commissioner Jack Russek, who was in attendance at the meeting, said McDonald was not able to do that, and that any motion to reconsider would have to be made by one of the people who voted in favor of the passing motion.

Robert Holt of the Juke Box Restaurant had also sent a letter requesting to be heard at the hearing, but later declined to be present. Being it was his establishment’s first violation, he was assessed a $250 fine.

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