Aldermen explain split votes on bar issue
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | February 21,2013
Alderman Charles Romeo said he had perfectly sensible reasons for backing two amendments to his ordinance — before rejecting the ordinance as amended.
Romeo was one of three aldermen who voted for amendments to allow minors in bars with parental supervision and to create one-time permits for 18-and-over parties. Then they rejected the overall proposal those measures were modifying — an ordinance banning patrons under 21 years of age from city bars.
The ordinance was intended to close a loophole under which a local nightclub was holding 18-and-over parties. Such parties are theoretically banned under the city’s entertainment ordinance, which says bars featuring live music or dancing may not admit patrons under 21 unless they admit them every night they’re open.
The Local, a Merchants Row night club, made use of this latter clause after an unsuccessful attempt to get the ordinance modified to allow for weekly dance parties in which patrons 18 and over could be admitted but not served alcohol.
“If the board wanted to ban persons under 21 from going into bars, I wanted to give them the tools to do it,” Romeo said Wednesday. “I wasn’t wedded to it one way or the other, but if the city wanted to do that, (the original proposal) was a straightforward way to do it.”
Romeo said each of the amendments made sense to him as they were presented and debated by the board, but when the discussion turned back to the ordinance as a whole, he thought the board may have lost its way.
“It became very quickly, from my point of view, that the ordinance was not too far from what the current law allows,” he said.
Romeo said he had wanted to rewrite the entertainment ordinance last summer, but got little support for such an endeavor. He said he might support an ordinance based on the amendment creating a permit process for 18-and-over parties, which would also close the loophole.
The other two swing voters, Aldermen Gary Donahue and Christopher Siliski, both said they were ultimately opposed to the proposal but, if it had to go through, disliked it less with the two amendments.
“It was kind of a hedged bet,” Siliski said. “If the final vote was a pro vote, I wanted those amendments in there to help the business owners.”
While Romeo said the ordinance was designed to apply equally to city bar owners, Donahue said it seemed like it was aimed squarely at The Local.
“This wasn’t about kids walking into Center Street Saloon or CJ’s,” Donahue said. “We’re picking on one business.”