Commissioner Kim Canada is right in believing that the city’s rulebook can do better than handing out different punishments to different establishments for the same infraction. As he put it: “How can you justify giving someone a letter of warning one day and somebody else a three-day suspension for the same dang thing?”
His reference is to suspensions of varying duration handed out to the three establishments most recently “stung” by an undercover operation whereas, two years ago, the five caught in a similar sting only received warning letters.
The city and its Alcohol Control Commission have been kicking around this issue for almost two years now — and it isn’t even the most troublesome and annoying of Rome’s regulations regarding alcohol. That’s probably the food/liquor ratio, which is akin to making any team that doesn’t call as many running plays as it does passes forfeit the game. Resolving that one could truly get complicated but stuff like selling to those underage and similar known violations of the agreed-upon rules for how this game is supposed to be played? Dealing with those ought to be easy.
And the well-known rules for football could easily provide a model.
LET’S TAKE an offside call, for which the penalty is a uniform five yards. It doesn’t matter if the player lined up an inch over or jumped a full yard into the other side’s turf before the snap. Offside is offside and the penalty is five yards. It doesn’t even matter if the player was drawn offside — which is sort of like a sting. Tough luck. Five yards walked off. Indeed, causing an offside sometimes becomes part of the strategy of the game, just as a sting is used as a strategic move to protect law and order.
Other football infractions such as pass interference may involve a bit more human (referee) judgment than an offside, which either is or isn’t. However, even there it either happened or it didn’t and that’s what instant replays are for if disputed. Guess what — most places that sell/serve alcohol have cameras on the premises (and increasingly so) for officials in the replay booth to look at.
Let’s grant that alcohol is not quite as easy as football to regulate and any punishment for infractions must take that into account. If an entire defensive line jumps offside the penalty is still five yards. If every sale an establishment makes is to those underage then a maximum five-yard penalty would seem plainly insufficient. The point is only this, and it appears to be the one that Canada and some other commissioners are making: What good are rules if an offside results in a one-yard penalty instead of five — or 10, for that matter — based on a judgment call no matter what the replay cameras show?
CLEARLY, just as in football, the alcohol trade can also have players with a tendency to unsportsmanlike conduct. Well, there are 15-yard penalties for such offenses — and even such a thing as being thrown out of the game. In alcohol sales, that would be losing one’s license. Or even, as the bicycling federation just showed regarding Lance Armstrong, being banned for life.
Much of law and government regulation of behavior involves shades of interpretation — is it self-defense or first-degree murder? That’s not really the case in alcohol — or traffic, for that matter. Either one was offside or not, was speeding or not, sold a six-pack of beer to a minor or not. To handle it any other way leads to nonsense or worse — worse being a possible public perception that favoritism is being shown for political or other reasons.
Nonsense would be such as the writer — who rather obvious was last under 21 more than a half-century ago — being “carded” when buying a bottle of wine at a supermarket that had been “stung” not long ago. Should there at least be a large sign like the one a major store has saying something like: “Anyone looking as though they are under 40 will be asked for identification.” At least that might be considered a compliment.
What makes football interesting to watch is that everybody has to play by the same rules and knows them. What makes government annoying to watch is that the rules always seem to change or get weird interpretations.
Rome’s approach to alcohol licensing and policing probably is overdue for a top-to-bottom overhaul. It made sense in the early, tentative, feel-your-way days as it first was allowed to appear decades after Prohibition was revoked. It now needs consistency more than making it up as one goes along.
THE SAME holds true about the current run/pass ratio (food/liquor sales), also known as assuming customers should have equal appetites (and capacities) for martinis and lobsters.
Perhaps the regulating authorities haven’t gone out into the larger world much where, in locales not suffering from a Bible Belt hangover, they might discover places called “bars” that specialize in alcohol sales and are known to offer free food to attract customers. Seriously … and not just peanuts, popcorn and pretzels either. Those might be possible to find at the beer-only bars existing around here but true bars (cocktails, straight shots) and even wine bars will, to compete during “happy hour,” often offer free finger sandwiches, fancy olives, dips/chips, fried cheese or potato treats and similar.
Even conceding that Rome is not quite at such a place yet, much less the unincorporated area where the County Commission appears nervous about even putting a Sunday sales question on the ballot as it could have been, should have been, in the election next week, it is definitely time to re-examine the whole of the city’s “alcohol control” approach.
The selling to minors, which is usually of beer, is indeed a serious infraction — perhaps it should be treated more harshly than an offside.
Government, just like the NFL and NCAA, has a role to play in establishing the rules and assuring the safety of the players. Those are, inside the white lines, the same for everybody with the same penalties for violations. The NFL/NCAA don’t tell the players or coaches when to run or pass or punt.
MAYBE ROME and its Alcohol Control Commission should concentrate on establishing uniformity regarding how their referees make the calls and then step aside and let the players play.