Aldermen reject liquor training
By Stuart R. Wahlin
After 20 minutes of debate, Rockford aldermen roundly rejected—for now—a new measure that would have required Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education Training (BASSETT) for employees of establishments selling liquor. After receiving countless calls from business owners opposing the proposed law, aldermen decided the ordinance might not be such a good idea after all.
A number of hesitant aldermen first suggested the issue be sent back to committee in order to take public input and allow additional time for council members to review how the law would impact about 300 establishments with liquor licenses in Rockford. The cost per employee would be $20 for an online course, or $50 for a four-hour class that would be offered by the city.
Some, including Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5), an attorney, thought it might be best for committee members to take a closer look at the would-be ordinance’s extended reach. She noted labor law would require employers to pay their workers’ hourly wages while they complete the course—that’s time paid for not being on-the-job, while possibly having to pay a second employee, perhaps at an overtime rate, to cover a missed shift.
“It’s not something you can require them to do on their own time,” Hervey explained, noting that frequent employee turnover could compound the regulatory financial stress already on business owners.
Ald. John Beck (R-10) indicated there were originally two versions of the measure, and that city leaders had opted for the more restrictive one. Beck favored returning the matter to committee in order to take input from the public, namely those the law would affect.
“Without us knowing what that business community feels about this,” Beck said, “then it’s difficult to make a decision to move forward.”
Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6), a member of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association and the Rockford Association of Clubs, opposed the committee referral, asserting the measure should simply be defeated. He and Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), whose ward includes many downtown restaurants and bars, wondered what effect the measure would have on events staffed by volunteers, like churches and charities, or On the Waterfront.
“You just don’t need it at this point. Let the state deal with it,” Jacobson argued. “We have a lot of events in this community where we have a lot of hard-working volunteer people who go and give their time.”
Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), a staunch alcohol opponent who moved the committee report for approval, argued the program should simply be viewed as “job training,” which is required in a number of industries. He added the Illinois Liquor Control Commission endorses the program.
“What is so wrong in taking some basic training to have a job?” he wondered. “We do that all over the place.”
Beach indicated the program teaches sellers to engage in responsible service, while reducing police calls, and preventing drunk driving and underage drinking. Although not opposed to further review in committee, and recognizing the cost to employers and groups, Beach maintained, “That shouldn’t mean that we want to reduce our standards for excellence in what we do.”
Aldermen never questioned the merits of the program, but regardless of the commission’s endorsement, council members ultimately decided now is not the time to increase financial hardships for business owners.
Ald. Bill Robertson (I-14) asserted: “I think it’s a good idea. But I do think, given the economic conditions that are out there…that it would be a much better issue for the bar owners to do this in a voluntary sense.”
Ald. Bill Timm (R-9) concurred, “I think the timing on this is very, very bad.”
Aldermen Mark, Carl Wasco (D-4), Jacobson, Nancy Johnson (D-8), Timm, Linda McNeely and Robertson defeated the motion to send the issue back to committee, and the original motion was subsequently defeated.
Aldermen Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) and Karen Elyea (D-11) were not present for the votes. Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), who also serves as liquor commissioner, was also absent.
Developers fearing unfavorable vote go back to the drawing board
An anticipated vote whether to issue a special-use permit for a 158-unit affordable-housing complex at 1277 Asche Ave., near 11th Street and Sandy Hollow Road, never happened, because an attorney for LandWhite Developers, LLC withdrew the petition.
After the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) recommended denial of the request, approval of the permit would require a favorable vote by a supermajority of the council. Only five of seven ZBA members were present for the vote, three of whom voted in favor of the project. A simply majority to recommend approval would require four affirmative votes, however.
Considering opposition by Ald. Jacobson, who represents the ward, LandWhite feels its chances of garnering enough votes are better if the company restarts from the beginning of the process to seek ZBA approval.
→ Authorizing the one-year extension of an agreement with nonprofit Rockford Local Development Corporation (RLDC) for land acquisition related to flood control along Keith Creek. The extension includes the city’s continued backing of a $9 million note through Alpine Bank.
→ Approving a memorandum of understanding for the city to participate in the Put Illinois to Work program, which aims to place more than 250 people into jobs made possible through federal stimulus dollars.
→ Approving an intergovernmental agreement with the Rockford Park District for construction and improvements related to the Kishwaukee Street bridge.
→ Recommending approval of a one-year agreement whereby the city will provide $22,100 to Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful. The measure still faces final approval as an ordinance.
→ Extending by one year a contract for banking services, excluding purchasing cards and certain accounts payable, with Associated Bank for a cost of $158,410. The renewal marks the second year of a five-year contract, subject to council approval each year.
→ Approving the second year of a five-year banking services contract with PNC Bank for purchasing cards and Active Pay. The contract poses no direct cost to the city.
→ Awarding a $55,480 contract to Municipal Design & Environmental Services for design engineering and construction observation related to drainage improvements in the 14th Ward.
→ Awarding Arnold Lundgren & Associates a $14,480 contract for design engineering and construction observation related to drainage improvements in the Third and Fourth wards.
→ Awarding a $10,400 contract to Tarara Land Surveying/Carroll Engineering for design engineering and construction observation related to drainage improvements in the Fourth Ward.
→ Awarding a $440,736.77 bid to Rock Road, of Janesville, for resurfacing of Kishwaukee Street, between Harrison Avenue and Brooke Road.
Aldermen convened in closed session to discuss collective bargaining negotiations.
May was proclaimed Community Action Month. The week of May 24 was proclaimed Ignite Week. May 22-28 was proclaimed National Safe Boating Week.
Community activist Prophet Yusef argued Rockford suffers from a “negative self image.” He strongly stressed the importance of positive thinking.
From the May 26-June 1, 2010 issue
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