St. Charles ready for birth of new liquor commission
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St. Charles aldermen are expected to approve the appointments of two of their peers and two constituents to the city's new Liquor Control Commission Monday night. Once in place, the commission has a ready-made list of issues to tackle.
Poor behavior of some patrons at downtown taverns, and the efforts of those establishments to keep their customers from being arrested, have been a top concern going back to the prior mayoral administration.
The resident nominees both live in Mayor Ray Rogina's own Third Ward.
• Charles "Chuck" Amenta II is a six-year resident of the city. He works as a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual, where he's been since September 2012. Before that he worked as an operations manager at Linear Industries for four years. He attended Waubonsee Community College and serves on the Reneaux Manor Homeowners Association Board. Third Ward Alderman William Turner has served as president of that same homeowners association.
• Robert Gehm, a 23-year resident of the Third Ward, has more than 30 years of business experience in accounting, finance and project management. He organized the finance section and oversaw $5 million of daily spending by BP during the oil spill response in Louisiana. He has also volunteered with several local organizations including the Northern Illinois Food Bank. He has worked as a project manager and senior consultant for Merger Integration at BMO Harris Bank the past two years.
The two aldermanic appointees being brought forward by Rogina are Second Ward Alderman Rita Payleitner and Fifth Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis. Lewis most recently summarized her views of the downtown tavern woes in a candidate survey during her recent successful bid for re-election.
"If you are asking me if I like the public intoxication, public urination, fighting, and vomit on our city sidewalks, then of course, my answer is no," wrote Lewis in response to a question about her level of comfort with the number of taverns and the conduct of some of their patrons.
"If you are asking me if I like to see residents enjoying a social event with friends, having a nice dinner at one of our restaurants, enjoying some entertainment, or simply being part of our downtown ambience, the answer is yes."
Rogina would be the fifth member of the commission. In an interview he said there is no doubt the commission will be an advisory body with a lot of weight behind its recommendations.
"One of the main functions is going to be disciplinary," Rogina said. "I'm hoping the commission can look at each case on an individual basis. However, if a precedent has been set in a similar case, then I hope they are fair in following that precedence."
Rogina said he also expects Police Chief Jim Lamkin will have a strong voice on the commission, though not serve as an actual part of the advisory body.
"I wouldn't mind the commission just getting together to talk philosophy with the police chief," Rogina said. "He sits in on all the disciplinary hearings and has all the statutory language down pat."
The commission already has a large agenda on its plate, but it is one the new team of aldermen showed they are ready for during the recent campaign season.
Modifying city code to provide more clear distinction between taverns and restaurants during the liquor license application process is a move all the aldermen said they would support.
How to create that clarity may be an early task for the new commission.
Ongoing issues with overserving at some downtown taverns leading to encounters with St. Charles police when the bars close is the second major topic the commission will handle.
Incoming aldermen all voice some level of hesitation about approving any new licenses downtown unless and until the march from bar stools to the police blotter stops.
Better training of tavern staff and random police checks of training certifications have both been suggested during public meetings.
Also on the table is what may be the strongest form of a universal crackdown on bad tavern behavior yet.
The idea of a 2 a.m. closing time being a privilege that is earned rather than bestowed from the onset of at liquor license has been suggested multiple times.
Any rolling back of the closing time will likely result in an outcry from existing tavern owners who fear losing business to either their St. Charles competitors or taverns in Geneva.
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