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Article updated: 11/13/2012 4:44 PM

Geneva council doesn't want liquor licensees in city government

By Susan Sarkauskas

Despite pleas from a prominent local businessman and petitions with more than 400 signatures supporting the idea, the Geneva City Council refused Monday to recommend changing the city's liquor law to allow license holders to be aldermen.

At its committee of the whole meeting Monday, Aldermen Craig Maladra, Richard Marks, Ron Singer, Dawn Vogelsberg and Donald Cummings voted against the change. Aldermen Sam Hill, Chuck Brown, Ralph Dantino and Dean Kilburg voted in favor. Alderman Dorothy Flanagan was absent.

"I ask you to let the people decide (who to put in office)," said Michael Olesen, the owner of Stockholm's Pub, who wants to be an alderman. He and friends have circulated paper and online petitions asking for the law to be changed. Olesen said people have repeatedly asked him to run for alderman and mayor.

"I'm here for my opportunity to choose who I want," said resident Tom Simonian, a friend of Olesen's.

Several speakers scoffed at the idea that Geneva police would be hesitant to enforce liquor laws against an alderman who gets to vote on their employment and salary. That same argument could be applied if an aldermen is pulled over for a traffic violation, they said. And aldermen are allowed to own buildings in the city, even though they oversee the fire and building departments and those employees may have to inspect their properties.

Resident Colin Campbell, however, said that the liquor license is the only one the city issues that carries the possibility of criminal prosecution for violation of laws, and that the mayor is charged with adjudicating license violations. That could put an alderman in the position of being beholden to the mayor to keep a license so he can keep earning a living. Alderman Richard Marks pointed out the council has no say in the decisions of the liquor commissioner regarding suspension or revocation, so there is no check or balance. A decision can be appealed to the state liquor control commission.

"As a liquor license holder, it can be way more adversarial (than other businesses)," Vogelsberg said, of the relationship with police.

The matter has come up because state law changed recently to allow aldermen in towns of fewer than 50,000 people to have liquor licenses, as long as the primary business is serving food.

Mayor Kevin Burns opposed changing the policy.

"If this truly is not about Mr. Olesen, then we only have the option to consider the what-if as Mr. Campbell has stated," Burns said.

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