The divide manifested again last week when the elected Rome City Commission split on enforcing the recommendations of its appointed Alcohol Control Commission — and City Commissioner Kim Canada’s frustration boiled over.
“How can you justify giving someone a letter of warning one day and somebody else a three-day suspension for the same dang thing?” he asked.
The ACC had recommended a two-day suspension at the Stonebridge Grill and three-day suspensions at El Toro and Mi Alazan restaurants. Servers at all three places were cited as first offenders for underage sales during a Sept. 27 Rome police sting operation.
City commissioners voted 5-4 to give Stonebridge a matching three-day penalty, with Mayor Evie McNiece breaking the tie.
Canada, who opposed the increased penalty at Stonebridge Grill, pointed to an April 25 sting at local stores that found violations at 17 places.
The board upheld ACC recommendations of letters of warning for 13 first offenders and three-day suspensions where there were second offenses or suspicious circumstances.
“We need to do something so people will know if they violate the law we will have consistent penalties. ... I don’t think this should be a three-day suspension if we gave other people letters,” Canada said.
But the issue is not so cut and dried with his fellow commissioners.
Commissioner Sue Lee, who chairs the ACC, voted with Canada against the increase — but her stated motivation was to uphold the recommendation.
“The penalty should depend on the circumstances. That’s why we have (ACC) public hearings,” she said.
And Commissioner Bill Collins voted for the increase but agreed with Canada’s complaint.
“Yes, there are too many inconsistencies,” said Collins, who also is one of the three elected officials and three appointed residents on the ACC. “I argued for a stronger
penalty for Stonebridge but got voted down.”
McNiece said a set penalty for offenses would eliminate the need for an ACC or hearings, but “there needs to be a way to have flexibility.”
The controversy first came to a head in December 2010 when the board deadlocked on penalties for five restaurants caught in a state sting and no sanctions were imposed.
Since then, officials have debated potential fixes, including turning the ACC into an all-citizen board, expanding the requirement for alcohol server permits to store clerks, eliminating the permits altogether and adding the option of fines instead of suspensions at businesses where violations occur.