The penalty for liquor license holders who repeatedly sell alcohol to minors will soon be reduced from four months to just 10 days as officials emphasize improved training over discipline.
The change is part of an overhaul to the town’s liquor codes, which elected officials undertook after two high-profile liquor license suspensions prompted them to rethink their punishments. Town councilors worried the current forfeiture for failing three compliance checks in a year — 120 days of no revenue and possibly no jobs for workers — was too severe.
When the council made its first of three readings of the new law, on Monday, the unanswered question was whether the 10-day suspension should be mandatory, like the old suspension, or whether it should be left to the council’s discretion.
Councilor Jim Stanford argued for a rigid penalty. “Injecting wiggle room” into the decision, he said, would only invite offenders — and their friends and attorneys — to blame their violations on extenuating circumstances to try to persuade the council to absolve them.
“We will subject ourselves to an enormous amount of pressure,” Stanford said. “You get 30 emails from every friend of the liquor license owner; you get your arm twisted when you walk to the post office.”
He called for the same inflexibility that tormented the councilors in recent years when they were forced to impose a four-month suspension on the Virginian and Pizzeria Caldera. But with the new suspension length being “dramatically less,” Stanford wanted the law to be uncompromising.
Mayor Pete Muldoon, the sole vote against the liquor code update, said the council should give itself leeway to decide against suspension, in case a liquor license holder presents a truly convincing case for why they shouldn’t be held responsible even after selling alcohol to underage people three times in a year.
He didn’t offer any examples, but Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno agreed it was possible.
“We can’t think of every circumstance,” she said. “Somebody might have a good argument. ... I can’t think of them right now, but that’s the uniqueness of every situation.”
Ultimately, the councilors voted to set in stone the 10-day suspension for three failed compliance checks, but to leave other violations to the discretion of elected officials.
For example, they could suspend a license if the holder makes false statements on a license application or fails to report excessive drinking and disorderly conduct, but they don’t have to.
As the punishments for selling to minors become lighter, the town will also require increased training for employees who serve alcohol. As of now, they aren’t required to be certified through the Training for Intervention Procedures program, or TIPS, except after a violation. The new laws will likely require them to take a TIPS course within 45 days of hire.
The council still needs to approve the new codes two more times, leaving room for further changes.