Complaints about the behavior of overserved patrons at St. Charles' downtown taverns have been a recurring theme of city council discussions in the past year. But soon the city will have 10 eyes overseeing what happens to those establishments instead of two.
For the duration of former Mayor Don DeWitte's service, he acted as the lone liquor commissioner for the city. That job entailed reviewing liquor license applications and violations and determining if license approvals, suspensions or revocations were deserved. The city council would then just about always follow along with DeWitte's recommended course of action.
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New Mayor Ray Rogina campaigned, in part, in changing that structure. He promoted a five-member liquor commission with himself, two aldermen and two members of the public to keep a watch on the city's liquor license holders. The city council is expected to approve the formation of that liquor commission at their next meeting.
Rogina said he is looking forward to having extra sets of eyes on the liquor issue in town.
"I ran for this job to be as open and transparent as possible," Rogina said. "I owe nothing to anyone. License holders should look at this as the liquor commissioner now has a number of sets of extra eyes to watching them and looking at an application or looking at discipline. They may say they don't know if that's good or bad. I think extra eyes might be to their advantage."
Police Chief Jim Lamkin said he's let downtown taverns know the larger commission is on the way, and their main question is who will sit on the commission.
Rogina will decide that, but he's not naming names until the city council takes a final vote on creating the commission. From a tavern-owners perspective, the potential for having Aldermen Jim Martin and Jo Krieger on the liquor commission would be daunting. The pair consistently vote against just about every liquor license application or liquor event permit that comes before them. Rogina said he's looking for a balanced approach from the two aldermen he will appoint.
"I am looking for two people to be fair and unbiased," Rogina said. "Every case is based on a series of facts. If you are on this commission, your job is to apply the law and be fair and unbiased."
The two citizen members of the liquor commission will come from the pool of candidates who applied to be the new Third Ward alderman when Rogina gave up that seat to be mayor. Rogina said the Third Ward is large enough that he won't select two people from the same neighborhood.
"I'm not going to conduct an intergalactic search for members," Rogina said. "We already have some good people, and there are other people I could consider outside the Third Ward that have expressed a desire to serve. When the Third Ward applicants came in, I said to all of them that they will have other chances to serve the city, and when that chance is extended to them I hope they will take the opportunity. My suspicion is after the council approves the commission, we'll have our two citizen members pretty quickly."
Rogina said he also expects Lamkin will play a key role in the proceedings of the liquor commission. And, though the commission is only an advisory body, Rogina said their recommendations will be given very heavy weight when it comes time to make a decision.
"They're not here just to be a front," Rogina said. "They are here to provide solid advice."