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updated: 7/26/2013 5:21 PM

After threat of cancellation, Wauconda blues fest gets new life

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  • Frank Bart

    Frank Bart


Intervention from a Wauconda civic group may have saved a popular community event planned for next month.

The Lions Club's involvement clears the way for the fourth annual Blues, Brew & Burger Fest to go on as planned Aug. 10 at the municipal parking lot, which is at Mill and Maple streets.

As in the past, the event is sponsored by two local businesses, Bulldogs Grill and Bliss Wine & Gifts.

Citing state law and a village policy that restricts the rental of the lot to nonprofit groups or government agencies, Mayor Frank Bart refused to issue a special-event permit or a liquor license to the organizers this week.

Bart suggested they find a different location or partner with a nonprofit group if they wanted the event to happen.

Enter the Lions Club, which has volunteered to host the event.

On Friday afternoon, Bart said the group was expected to apply for the necessary permits. They could be granted as soon as Monday, he said.

In exchange for the club's involvement, the event organizers will buy raffle tickets from the group, club President Wade Meyer said. The prize is a Hawaiian vacation. Remaining proceeds benefit the group.

Meyer called the move a "great opportunity" for the group. The Main Street businesses help the club when needed, he said, and this is a chance to return the favor.

Bart praised the Lions Club for getting involved and called the solution a "testament" to the village staff's abilities.

"We'll work through these things," he said.

Bart also took a shot at the organizers, saying the problems could've been avoided if they partnered with the village or a nonprofit group sooner.

Maria Weisbruch, Bliss Wine's owner, said she's happy the event will happen as planned.

"In the future (we will) make sure there are absolutely no misunderstandings," she said.

Weisbruch is one of the leaders of a grass-roots group that's criticized Bart for forcing Police Chief Douglas Larsson out of that post. Larsson is set to leave the department Sept. 1.

Before the Lions Club got involved, Weisbruch said Bart's obstruction "sounds a bit like vengeance."

Bart rebuffed the accusation.

"I do not operate that way," he said. "I have repeatedly reached out to build bridges and I will continue to do so."

The policy at the heart of the dispute was adopted in April 2012. Although one part of the policy indicates for-profit events can be held in the municipal lot, a different section says they can't.

Regardless, a state law restricting the use of public property trumps the local policy, Bart said.

In an unusual twist, Bart mentioned the uniform code of military justice as another factor behind his objection to the plan.

A U.S. Army Reserve officer, Bart said he is subject to that code and could face military prosecution if he commits an ethical violation by allowing "(the) use of public assets for purely private gain."

Last summer's Blues, Brew & Burger Fest was held in the municipal lot just a few months after the local policy was adopted. No legal objections were raised at the time.

Bart, who was elected mayor this spring, wasn't interested in what happened last year.

"The failures of the past are not my concern," he said.

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