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updated: 7/31/2012 5:02 PM

Geneva council members might be allowed to hold liquor licenses

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You can't be an alderman or mayor of Geneva if you hold a liquor license for a business in town, according to current Geneva liquor law.

But the city council seems inclined to change that, to match a revised state law.

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It voted 8-2, at an informal committee of the whole policy session Monday, to forward such a change for an official vote.

When Geneva updated its liquor code in 2009, it matched state law, which prohibited licensees from holding office. But the state then changed its liquor law, according to City Administrator Mary McKittrick. The state now says a licensee can be an alderman or trustee, in towns of fewer than 50,000 population and if the establishment's primary business is serving food. If a matter concerning liquor licenses comes up before the board or council, the person is required to refrain from voting.

Alderman Sam Hill, who proposed the change, noted that his 2009 opponent, Michael Olesen, owns Stockholm's Pub in Geneva. Hill's term expires in 2013, and he is not running for re-election.

Aldermen Richard Marks and Craig Maladra voted against the proposal.

"I don't understand why we are separating out this one category of people from the political life of our country," said Alderman Chuck Brown, saying such restrictions hearken to the days of Prohibition and blue laws. "It is not reasonable in the 21st century."

Aldermen Dawn Vogelsberg and Ralph Dantino cautioned that the council should not consider a change based on a specific person interested in serving on the council.

Police Chief Steve Mexin, asked about enforcing liquor laws on an employer, said he saw a potential for conflict of interest. He also raised a point aldermen hadn't thought of: What if both aldermen from a ward are license holders? Then, the residents of that ward wouldn't have anyone representing their interests when votes on liquor matters came up.

Aldermen debated what constitutes conflict of interest, with some questioning what difference there is between a sandwich shop owner handing out free cookies and telling people to vote for him, a real estate developer voting on zoning and building codes, and a restaurant owner voting on liquor laws and issuing licenses other than their own.

"There is some essence, some part of me that says liquor is different," Alderman Donald Cummings said.

Olesen told the council the matter "was not about him," even though Hill had mentioned him by name in making the proposal.

"The real issue here is not the conflict of interest ... the real issue is do the people have the right to choose who represents them? They

should have the opportunity to have everybody possible to vote for, so they then have the right to select who stands for them, who represents them, who has their voice in government," Olesen said.

McKittrick was directed to prepare the change and bring it to a regular committee of the whole meeting for a vote.

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