Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval, with only a few cosmetic changes, to a proposed ordinance regulating private clubs and drinking establishments.
The ordinance would give the commission the power to revoke, suspend or place conditions on the license of a bar or club, if the commission finds that the business habitually threatens public safety or welfare.
The ordinance was designed to help the city avoid past problems with bar and club owners who didn't cooperate with the city in trying to curb criminal activity surrounding their businesses, commissioners said.
"We all are keenly aware that we had to work on this for a few bar owners," Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith said.
CRITICS of the ordinance tried to convince commissioners that the problems could be solved with better communication and cooperation.
"Passing legislation isn't always the best way to solve a problem," said Lance Burr, an attorney representing the owner of The Jazzhaus, a private club.
Commissioners frequently reassured the dozen or so owners present at the meeting that the ordinance is designed to encourage cooperation.
"We're not trying to shut the door on you," Mayor Bob Walters said. "This is for those circumstances where we can't get a resolution or a good, neighborly solution."
Walters said he realized local controls were needed after complaining to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division about incidents of theft, vandalism and violent crimes involving patrons or employees of two local clubs.
MANY OWNERS at the meeting seemed resigned to the ordinance's approval and suggested technical changes instead of outright opposition to the ordinance.
Several owners picked at a provision that would allow the commission to revoke or suspend a license, if a bar or club has two occupancy violations in 12 months.
"In one night you can have two violations and still be a damn good club owner," said Rick McNeely, owner of The Jazzhaus.
Clubs and drinking establishments tend to fill beyond capacity on days of big basketball or football games, said McNeely.
Commissioner John Nalbandian said he also thought the provision was too stringent. The commission agreed to increase the requirement to three violations.
AFTER suggestions by the owners, commissioners also agreed to strengthen the wording of a passage on figuring the penalty for a club or establishment found to be a habitual public nuisance.
Under the new wording, commissioners must consider, not "may" consider, whether an owner took any action to curb the harm to public safety. They also must consider whether the harm included violations of law.
Sitting on the opposite side of the room from the owners, members of neighborhood groups and other residents said they supported the ordinance.
"I have spent 15 years dealing with this problem," said Sue Kapfer, 921 Ill. "But the answer that I've always gotten was, `We'd like to help but we can't.' Maybe now we have something that can help us."
Commissioners voted unanimously to place the proposal on the consent agendas of the next two commission meetings for first and second readings.
Although commissioners can pull items from the consent agenda for further discussion, most items are routinely approved without comment.