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DeKALB – Michael Embrey resigned Monday from the DeKalb Liquor Commission.
Embrey, who has served on the commission under three mayors, said he stepped down because his business – he runs events-promotion company FunME Events – takes him out of town frequently. Embrey has missed several meetings during the past six months because of work, DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen said.
Embrey’s resignation was sent to Povlsen via e-mail in advance of a formal letter.
“I have served with the best intentions of supporting both business owners and the City of DeKalb,” read the e-mail, which the Daily Chronicle obtained from Embrey.
“With more demands from my business, I do not feel I have the proper time to devote to the commission and the important issues at hand. With my travels to promote tourism in several U.S. cities, my business calendar challenges my time to be in town.”
The resignation comes about a week after Embrey, during the Feb. 16 meeting of the DeKalb Liquor Commission, asked the owner and general manager of the Haru of Japan sushi restaurant what was the ethnicity of the wait staff he hired. The restaurant, located at 3206 Sycamore Road, was seeking a liquor license, which was approved by the commission that night.
Some people, including 4th Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher, said later they found the question inappropriate. Embrey said his words were taken out of context. He said he asked the question because he believes that restaurants with an ethnic theme have more credibility if they have staff who are from that ethnicity.
“It gives it validity,” Embrey said. “It’s not a negative.”
The general manager replied that his staff was of varied ethnic backgrounds, to which Embrey said he replied that was good. Attempts Tuesday to reach the general manager and owner of Haru of Japan were unsuccessful.
Embrey voted in favor of Haru of Japan getting a license, and said he thanked the owner for coming at the conclusion of the meeting.
Povlsen, who also serves as liquor commissioner, said he briefly had stepped out of the meeting when Embrey asked about the wait staff.
“You’ll have to talk with him about what his intentions were,” Povlsen said, adding that everyone he spoke with who did hear it, including the city’s legal counsel, did not think it was meant as an inflammatory statement or a racial slur.
Gallagher, who was invited to the meeting to address another topic on the Liquor Commission’s agenda, said he believed the question was “inappropriate.” After the meeting, Gallagher posted an entry about it on his Web site, then removed the entry five days later.
“I took it down because I thought about it over the weekend ... and as an elected official, I’m not going to go to those levels,” Gallagher said, adding that his action was not prompted by anyone.
Whatever context the question was in, Gallagher said it was unclear.
“As sensitive as everyone is about these things, you better doggone think about it before you say these things,” Gallagher said.
As mayor, Povlsen will appoint someone to the open seat. There also is another open seat on the commission, as Eugene Smith resigned a few weeks ago.