Five of six offending establishments fined, spared license suspensions
By Laci Gagliano
Sun Post Newspapers
The Crystal City Council doled out an unusually high number of civil penalties for underage alcohol sales at the April 19 meeting.
Six Crystal businesses, including liquor stores and restaurants, received license suspensions and fines of varying degrees after the Crystal Police Department conducted a round of routine alcohol compliance checks in late December.
Police Chief Stephanie Revering and City Manager Anne Norris both said the larger number of violations was coincidental and a product of the process that takes place bi-annually.
Revering explained that the department conducts a total of four random checks per year, with two checks related to tobacco purchases and two checks related to alcohol sales. Businesses with licenses to sell those products are made aware that the checks will occur in the spring and fall, but are not informed of exactly when they will happen.
“We used a decoy, who was 18 years of age. He had a driver’s license that had the under-21 picture. He did have holes that were punched by the DMV that were punched through the picture itself because he had just turned 18 years of age – what those holes mean is that they have a yellow paper copy that tells them that they just got a new driver’s license,” Revering said.
Councilmember Julie Deshler mentioned there is a free training class offered to liquor license holders, but questioned owners who chose not to require staff to attend.
“As a business owner myself, if I failed, or one of the staff failed, and I had an opportunity to send them to a free class to try to further their education, but then I didn’t bother to send anybody, that tells me a lot. That’s my concern,” Deshler said.
Revering confirmed that none of the businesses who failed the checks attended the class.
“On Jan. 17 and Jan. 19 of this year is when those two classes were held. The letters were sent out about these classes to every business in the city who has a liquor license, and unfortunately we only had one establishment in the city of Crystal that sent all of their employees either on the 17th or 19th,” Revering said, noting the attendees were from the VFW, which had passed the compliance check.
Eric Charleson and his daughter Presley, owners of Crystal Wine and Spirits, addressed the council after receiving their second violation.
“We failed, as embarrassing as it is to admit that. We have made some changes to what we’ve done and we have new staff now. We’ve put in software where everybody who buys cigarettes or alcohol has to have an ID with them, and we have to punch in the ID in order to proceed with the sale,” Charleson said.
Because the it was Crystal Wine and Spirits’ second violation, the council moved forward with a $1,500 penalty, but reduced the suspension from three days to one day because the business took steps to mitigate the problem.
Matt Wheeler, Buffalo Wild Wings general manager, told the council the employee who failed the compliance check was a long-term employee who has passed previous compliance checks, but accidentally did the math wrong in completing the decoy underage sale. Wheeler said the entire staff is being re-certified by the National Restaurant Association as required by state law as a mitigation, and has hired a third party to perform additional compliance checks.
Deshler, who works part-time as a bartender, related to how easy it might be for a server to accidentally miscalculate the age or simply misread the card in a rush during a time of higher customer volumes.
Councilmember Jeff Kolb agreed that a one-off mistake is possible for anyone, possibly warranting a reduced penalty.
“It seems like somebody just screwed up and had a bad day,” Kolb said before motioning to cut the fine from $750 to $250 and exempting the license suspension, which did not pass the council.
Deshler then offered a motion for the original fine to stay intact while exempting the suspension, which the council approved.
A Chipotle located on West Broadway, El Loro Mexican Restaurant, Liquor Liquidator 3, and MGM Liquor Warehouse were also given $750 fines, but exempted from the one-day suspension.
Midway through the hearing, Councilmember John Budziszewski, who opposed each motion to revoke the license suspension, voiced concern over the council taking each individual situation into consideration rather than imposing a set penalty for each ordinance violation, citing worry that it opens the doors to unfair treatment of one business owner over another.
“Obviously we have a lot of people here who are first-time offenders. If you’re going to have a carrot and stick-type mentality, just put them all in the same group (and) determine a fine for them, and then go forward with that, because it looks like it’s inconsistent from one liquor license to the next,” Budziszewski said. “When we get into the shell game of picking and choosing, we get on a slippery slope.”
Kolb responded that he believes the process of taking each case into consideration individually is necessary since each case is different. “There are a number of things we do as a council that fall under the quasi-judicial function. This would be one of them. Not every one of these situations is the same,” he said.
Revering ended by highlighting the continual mutual respect the police department and city have for the business owners regardless of failing a compliance check.
“We have a great working relationship with all of these businesses. We know this is difficult, but we support what they do and we know that they support what we do, so we really appreciate them,” Revering said.
Contact Laci Gagliano at [email protected]