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St. Charles committee calls for liquor code changes

ST. CHARLES – Changes to the city’s liquor code appear likely after several St. Charles aldermen Monday called for separate restaurant and tavern licenses as well as a late-night permit allowing for 2 a.m. closings.

Ray Rogina, 3rd Ward alderman and mayoral candidate, outlined those suggestions and others after Police Chief Jim Lamkin updated the Government Services Committee on the joint efforts the city and St. Charles Tavern Association have made to combat alcohol-fueled problems downtown.

The association formed in fall in response to the City Council’s threat of changing closing time from 2 to 1 a.m. Mayor Don DeWitte proposed the reduction in hours after an August weekend that required police response to several downtown fights involving intoxicated people.

Since September, the bars have implemented a 1:20 a.m. last call, stopped alcohol service at 1:40 a.m., created a banned list and began using hand stamps to track patrons, Lamkin said.

“There’s been a real good improvement in regard to fight calls,” said Lamkin, noting a decline of more than 60 percent.

There were, however, more calls for battery, disorderly conduct/public indecency, disturbances and intoxicated subjects, according to a chart Lamkin provided. He noted police officers have shifted their focus to those areas.

“The harder we go after that, that’s going to generate calls,” said Lamkin, who also indicated several of the calls were generated by bar staff.

Russ Whitaker, a lawyer representing the association, acknowledged the work isn’t over.

“This is a work in progress,” he said. “I’m encouraged by the progress that has been made.”

Alderman Jim Martin was not. The 4th Ward alderman cited the increased calls.

“Where is the progress that we’ve been making?” he said.

Second Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignan said the root cause of the problems – over-serving – hasn’t been fixed. Third Ward Alderman Bill Turner agreed, describing the situation as “dancing around the real problem.”

Rogina offered several ideas aldermen plan to discuss, including a late-night closing privilege of 2 a.m., having separate tavern and restaurant liquor licenses and establishing a liquor commission with multiple members.

Rogina said he wouldn’t want to delay the issue for another year, but city administrator Brian Townsend said some elements might not be able to take effect until May 1, 2014. Staff is expected to return with a legal opinion next month.

“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” Carrignan said.

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