Naperville candidate awaits review of liquor code issue
A section of Naperville municipal code that caused one city council candidate to suspend his campaign likely will be reviewed before the April 7 election.
But whether it will be changed in time to allow Jim Bergeron to revive his bid for one of eight seats on the council will be up to the people who currently hold those seats.
The council will consider updating the code to allow city council, board or commission members in Naperville to hold liquor licenses, but the soonest the topic could appear on the agenda is March 3.
The issue is a "touchy" one, Mayor and Liquor Commissioner George Pradel said, because of its effect on Bergeron, a downtown bar owner who holds liquor licenses for Wise Boxer Pour House and Jimmy's Grill.
Bergeron suspended his campaign last month once he determined a section of the city code would prohibit him from renewing his liquor licenses if he was elected.
"I'm torn on this. It's a really sensitive issue at this time," Pradel said. "I'm not sure how it would be received at this time because of the position that Jim Bergeron is in."
Timing is a factor if Bergeron wants to revive his campaign. A potential code update would need to be reviewed twice by the city council, meaning the soonest it could be approved is March 17 -- just three weeks before the election.
But after asking the liquor commission on Thursday to recommend an update to the city code, Bergeron said he's letting the matter run its course.
"Obviously the election coming up puts a cloud over this," Bergeron said. "I'm not asking for any special treatment. This needs to go through the process."
The process took a step forward Thursday when the liquor commission voted 6-1 to recommend a code update to the city council. The code says no liquor license shall be issued to "any elected public official, Naperville officer or employee or member of any Naperville board or commission; and no such official shall be interested in any way, either directly or indirectly, in the manufacture, sale or distribution of alcoholic liquor."
Bergeron said he's had attorneys review the code, and they told him it could affect several appointed members of Naperville boards and commissions who have an indirect interest in liquor sales through business transactions such as leasing a building to a restaurant or brewery.
A potential update would bring Naperville's code in line with a less restrictive state law revised in 2005, which allows municipal board and council members to be involved in the sale of alcohol, as long as they do not participate in discussions about liquor issues.
"It cleans up the ambiguous language and it provides an exception to allow council members and members of boards or commissions to be involved in the sale of alcohol, provided they adhere to conflict of interest principles," City Prosecutor Mike DiSanto said.
Naperville mayors, police officers, city employees and liquor commission members still would not be allowed to have any direct or indirect interest in the sale of alcohol.
Liquor Commissioner Scott Wehrli said he "took the name and face off of this" when he was considering whether the code should be updated. Sure, Bergeron's situation brought it up, but Wehrli said the restriction could affect any number of Naperville residents with liquor-related businesses who might otherwise want to serve the community.
Pradel said he is unsure how the council will address the request to change the code with the election looming, with four members running for re-election and with two members running to be mayor and liquor commissioner.
"I hate in a way to send something to the city council that might be as touchy as this," Pradel said. "But maybe it's time that we send it and get a clear-cut answer."
Twenty candidates, including Bergeron, are on the ballot for eight council seats in the April 7 election.