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Recommendation for City Council to delay penalties for Green Mill's liquor violations

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WILLMAR -- Representatives of Willmar's Green Mill Restaurant are asking the City Council to delay civil penalties for serving alcohol to a minor in violation of the restaurant's city liquor license.

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The council's Fi-nance Committee voted Monday ev-ening to recommend the council de-lay the civil penalties until the court decides an appeal by the Green Mill server of a criminal charge for serving alcohol to a minor. Green Mill was one of seven of the city's 22 licensed establishments that failed liquor license compliance checks

The checks were conducted by the Police Department in late October. The City Council will consider the penalties against Green Mill and other establishments on Dec. 7.

The department twice a year conducts compliance checks, using a decoy under the age of 21, to ensure compliance with city ordinance and state law regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages to underage persons. The establishments fail the check if they sell alcohol to the decoy.

The 35 percent failure rate was an all-time high; the annual average failure rate is 15 percent, according to City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday.

Three establishments were first-time violators: New Fireside, The Oaks at Eagle Creek, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. New Fireside and The Oaks failed the check on Oct. 30. Wal-Mart failed the check on Oct. 22.

First-time violators are required to explain to the committee measures they will take to prevent future violations. They were Asim Siddiqui of New Fireside, David Baker of The Oaks, and Wal-Mart co-manager Chris Langness.

Two establishments were cited for a second violation: Kandi Entertainment Center and TPI Core Inc./Green Mill. The compliance checks were done Oct. 30. Each would pay a $750 fine and have a five-day license suspension.

Two establishments were cited for a third violation: Gerry's Liquors and Pizza Hut. The compliance check at Gerry's was done Oct. 22 and Pizza Hut was checked Oct. 30. The penalty is a $1,500 fine and a 10-day license suspension. Halliday said Gerry's paid the fine and closed 10 days. Halliday said he had not heard or received payment from Pizza Hut.

A fourth violation would result in license revocation, said Halliday.

Joe Kohaut, Green Mill vice president of food and beverage, and Andy Pirrotta, bar and restaurant manager, asked the committee to delay the penalties until the court decides an appeal of the criminal charge against the server.

Kohaut said they take the license violation seriously. Pirrotta said the restaurant has had a successful liquor compliance training program since February after the first violation.

Kohaut said the server is appealing the criminal charge because the server was familiar with the decoy, but Kohaut and Pirrotta said they found no fault with the decoy. Pirrotta said, to the best of his knowledge, the decoy provided identification, but the server did not ask for it because she was familiar with the decoy.

Halliday said Green Mill's liquor license would probably be suspended from Dec. 9 through 13 if the council imposes the fine and suspension. He said the liquor license covers the entire Conference Center as well as the restaurant, according to an opinion from City Attorney Rich Ronning.

Committee member Bruce DeBlieck said he was concerned that the decoy was known to the server. "I think they have grounds to wait until the judge decides,'' he said.

Rick Fagerlie agreed. He said Green Mill has probably scheduled Christmas parties. "If we rule on Dec. 7, you are shut down for those dates,'' he said.

"That doesn't weigh in my decision,'' said committee Chairman Denis Anderson. "But we are leaning to waiting for the court to decide.''

Halliday said the civil and criminal penalties are separate matters. "This is a civil penalty for an action that they failed to do: checking their age,'' he said. "One is a civil procedure and one is a criminal procedure. Do you have to tie them together? You are not bound to.''

The committee's decision didn't sit well with Kent Larson, KEC general manager, who said he wanted to be present to say the KEC takes its violation seriously, paid its fine and suspended liquor sales from Nov. 22 to 26. He said his server assumed the decoy was of legal age.

"We did it so it would inconvenience our customers the least,'' he said. "But I will say if we knew the appeal process would be this easy, we'll appeal it and get that extension so we get the past the holidays. If you lose $3,000 in business, that's part of the fine. We're going to look at it differently in the future because of what happened tonight.''

David Baker also said his server knew the decoy, "but assumed the wrong thing.'' Baker said he was interested in how the appeal works. "I may do the same thing,'' he said.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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