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Opinion

Troubled after reading Van Buer's letter to editor

DONNA S. JOHNSON

Editor: I read Frank Van Buer's letter to the editor from Tuesday in which he started by saying he was "deeply troubled." After I read the letter, I was deeply troubled! I have been a part of city government for 23 years, 19 of which I have served in the role of deputy liquor commissioner handling administration of liquor licenses. I don't know where Mr. Van Buer gets his information from, but I can say I have never seen him at a liquor hearing, or even attending a city council meeting. His letter contained statements about the process for handling liquor license violations that were simply not true, and I would like to explain for the public's benefit. The police determine if any violations of the liquor laws have occurred and forward those violations to the city attorney, who then determines if a liquor hearing should be held before the mayor as liquor commissioner. On many occasions over the years, it has been common practice for the liquor license holder to come in and talk to the city attorney and admit guilt, pay a fine and not have a liquor hearing. There is no need for a liquor hearing unless the party wishes to plead not guilty and present a defense to the charges. This is the same system routinely used for traffic violations. If you plead guilty and pay the fine to the circuit clerk, you do not have to appear in court. The city did not disregard its "standard" process, as Mr. Van Buer stated. This is part of the standard process. And I certainly hope it remains part of the standard process, because it saves the city from the expense of holding a hearing. The city's costs can run from a low of $300 to more than $1,000. Many hearings have cost the city more than it could legally collect in fines. This is in addition to staff time preparing for and participating in a hearing, plus it may result in overtime costs if police officers are needed to testify. In the matter of the Twin Tavern violation referred to in Mr. Van Buer's letter, I happen to know that violation occurred because of a mistake made by an employee. It was not because of poor management. This establishment had a record of 40 years with no violations. The employee was told to check the identification, did so and did not comprehend that the customer was underage. Mike Petros acknowledged the mistake made by the employee and voluntarily paid a fine in excess of the legal amount he could have been fined in a hearing. He saved the cost of having an attorney appear for him in a hearing concerning a violation he had no defense for, and the city saved the costs it would have incurred for holding a hearing. If this is a disservice to DeKalb residents, I certainly can't see it. What I see is the disservice to other officials and staff that occurs when they are portrayed as not doing their jobs properly. In regard to appointments of members to commissions, boards, etc., I have worked with five different mayors who have all had the privilege granted by law of making appointments, as vacancies occurred, to persons whose ideas and opinions they had faith in. Those appointments were all with the advice and consent of the aldermen on council. Would you appoint someone you did not like or trust to advise you? Bessie Chronopoulos, when she was mayor, chose to create a liquor commission to advise her in the performance of her duties. Under state law she could not give her power as liquor commissioner to that group. Greg Sparrow, when he returned as mayor, felt that with his 16 years of prior experience, he did not need a citizens group to advise him on fulfilling his duties. The liquor laws are set by state law and by local ordinances passed by the city council. When asked, the Liquor Commission serves as an advisory group to make recommendations to the city council about proposed changes in the local ordinances. The city council is not required to follow the recommendations, and, in fact, on several matters it has not. The mayor, whoever it is, has to carry out the duties of the office based on those laws. Different people have different styles, with the end result being the same: Follow the laws. If anyone has questions about our liquor laws and procedures, you may call me. DONNA S. JOHNSON City clerk

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