"Watching most of the three hour 'mini-trial' for the owner of O'Brian's bar in front of the Oshkosh Common Council last night has me thinking it might be time to reconsider the role alcohol plays in our lives around here. Hundreds of police calls last year, brawls, people found passed out lying on the floor, dozens of complaints from neighbors--and Chief Scott Greuel wouldn't even call it the 'worst of the worst' bars in town. And despite the owner's past refusal to work with police to mitigate the behavior problems at his establishment, the Common Council still voted to let him keep his liquor license."
Even better is an email I received from a citizen this morning. She says that the next time she gets a parking or speeding ticket in town, she's going to apply the council majority's reasoning and argue: "I'm not really sure if I knew the speed limit or saw the No Parking sign or not. I never signed anything that stated I fully understood the law. I deserve at least one more chance, it's actually your responsibility to inform me, it's not up to me to know what the penalties may be for breaking the law."
The council majority believe that last night's vote and discussion sent a message to all tavern owners in town that we take licensing seriously and will be watching them closely. Actually, the exact opposite message was sent. The message is that minimizing public safety issues, pleading ignorance, and accusing the police of not liking your clientele are all legitimate defenses against evidence of abusing the privilege of license ownership. After last night's vote, it's not clear to me why the police department would even bother to spend the time and resources necessary to make a case for revocation or nonrenewal.
As suggested by Councilor Tower, the Council had an opportunity last night to show that we recognize that license ownership is a privilege, not a right. We missed the opportunity. Too bad.