County bars to close earlier

Sangamon County Board ends 3 a.m. liquor licenses, citing public safety concerns

The Sangamon County Board opted not to allow for more public comment and instead voted 21-5 on April 8 to eliminate 3 a.m. liquor licenses for bars in unincorporated areas outside Springfield and other municipalities.

The decision will affect four taverns with 3 a.m. liquor licenses, effective July 1, and will require those establishments, if they choose to renew their licenses this summer, to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. There are 18 bars in unincorporated areas currently that have licenses to remain open until 1 a.m.

The city of Springfield has 10 or more bars holding 3 a.m. licenses, and Springfield Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan said city officials have talked with county officials about whether the city’s 3 a.m. licenses should be eliminated, but no action by the Springfield City Council is imminent.

Neither Springfield Mayor Misty Buscher nor Springfield Police Chief Ken Scarlette could be reached for comment.

Before the board’s final decision, a proposal to delay a final decision at least a month failed on a vote of 8 to 17. An alternative proposal to make closing time 2 a.m. rather than 3 a.m. failed on a vote of 7 to 19.

The sponsor of the resolution to do away with the county’s 3 a.m. liquor license category, Cathy Scaife, told Illinois Times that the County Board’s liquor committee, which she chairs, studied the issue for months.

She said the committee recommended the action because “through the years, the seriousness” of violent incidents at or near the 3 a.m. bars “has increased” and requires significant time for county sheriff’s deputies to keep the peace.

Scaife, a Republican who represents District 29 and lives near New Berlin, told the board, “I ask for support for all of our deputies.”

However, Jacksonville resident Chad Turner, a part-owner of The Cove, told the board before the vote that he questioned the evidence cited by Scaife and other 3 a.m. license opponents. The Cove, 1616 N. Dirksen Parkway, is one of the four 3 a.m. bars affected.

click to enlarge County bars to close earlier
The Cove, 1616 N. Dirksen Parkway, is one of the four 3 a.m. bars affected by the Sangamon County Board's recent vote.

Turner, a lawyer, said the details cited “do not bear out” the claim that violent incidents are increasing in frequency or severity after 1 a.m.

He said 3 a.m. license holders should be given time to comment on the data and present their views to the board.

The quick consideration by the full County Board after the Liquor Committee’s March 20 vote “is not necessarily good public policy,” he said.

Turner said the County Board may be opening itself up to lawsuits. He said the Sangamon County liquor law doesn’t allow current 3 a.m. license holders to be stripped of those licenses if the board eliminates the 3 a.m. license category.

click to enlarge County bars to close earlier
Attorney Chad Turner, who is part-owner of The Cove, addressed the Sangamon County Board prior to the vote and said the board may be opening itself up to lawsuits by stripping bars of 3 a.m. licenses.
Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser, who advises county government officials, disagreed, saying the board’s decision was legal.

Turner said “some establishments will close” because of the board action. He wouldn’t comment after the meeting.

The five board members who voted against eliminating 3 a.m. licenses were Sam Cahnman, a Springfield Democrat representing District 18; Tim Krell, a Springfield Republican representing District 15; Gina Lathan, a Springfield Democrat representing District 22; Tom Madonia Jr., a rural Rochester Republican representing District 9; and James Schackmann, a Republican from unincorporated Gardner Township representing District 11.

“I think we’re making a huge mistake,” Madonia said before the vote. “I don’t see the huge rush. I personally think we’re doing a disservice to the public.”

He, Krell and Schackmann said bar owners shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few patrons.

“We’re changing the rules for productive members of society,” Schackmann said.

Lathan said she would like to see the issue studied further. “These incidents happen at 1 a.m. also,” she said.

Cahnman said he is concerned that people leaving 1 a.m. bars and want to continue to drink would go to impromptu, or “pop-up” parties that can be harder for police to monitor. He proposed the compromise 2 a.m. closing time amendment that failed.

But board member Linda Douglas-Williams, a Springfield Democrat representing District 20, said she worries about the safety of sheriff’s deputies who have to respond to late-night incidents at 3 a.m. bars.

Board member Marc Ayers, a Springfield Democrat representing District 12, said he voted for the elimination of 3 a.m. licenses because his constituents were “overwhelmingly supportive of the 1 o’clock license” and because he understands their concerns about public safety.

However, he said he “didn’t like the process” because 3 a.m. license holders weren’t notified and given a chance to speak to the Liquor Committee before it recommended the change.

Ayers said he is one of the younger board members. “I remember my 20s well,” he said. “I had a lot of fun at these 3 o’clock bars, lots of fun, and I didn’t get into any trouble at all.”

 Scaife said her committee “worked very hard” on the issue, and most owners of the 3 a.m. licenses were aware that the committee was considering recommending an end to 3 a.m. licenses.

The board’s vote doesn’t interfere with the county’s ability to grant temporary 3 a.m. liquor licenses for special events, board chairperson Andy Van Meter said.

The board previously allowed bowling alleys in unincorporated areas to hold liquor licenses to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., but there are no such establishments that have those 2 a.m. licenses. The board’s vote also does away with the option of 2 a.m. licenses at bowling alleys.

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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