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Green Mill liquor penalty could go into effect in January

WILLMAR -- Green Mill's liquor license would be suspended five days in January rather than in December if the Willmar City Council approves a Finance Committee recommendation.

The committee voted Monday evening to recommend Green Mill's license to sell alcohol be suspended from Jan. 3 through 7 rather than Dec. 22 through 26.

Green Mill was one of seven establishments to fail a police department liquor license compliance check in late October by selling alcohol to an underage police decoy. Rather than pay the $750 fine and suspend alcohol sales for five like Kandi Entertainment Center, which also failed the compliance check, Green Mill ap-pealed to the committee.

Green Mill said its server was familiar with the decoy, and consequently did not ask for identification.

The Finance Committee held an appeal hearing on Nov. 30 and voted to recommend the council grant the appeal pending the outcome of the criminal case against the server. However, the council voted down the appeal on Dec. 7 and sent the matter back to the Finance Committee for further consideration.

During the second hearing, Joe Kohaut, Green Mill vice president of food and beverage, asked for a delay until January because the restaurant would lose from $8,500 to $10,000 in alcohol sales, not including associated food sales, and servers would lose an estimated $1,500 in tips during the holiday season.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said the practice has been to follow the ordinance. After a 7-day appeal, the council votes and the license is suspended for the 5 days. "The way I read it, it does say immediate. That would be Dec. 22 to 26,'' he said.

Halliday asked City Attorney Rich Ronning if Green Mill's request was allowable under the ordinance.

Ronning said he believes some of the delay is the fault of the city because of the way the first hearing was resolved.

"I think you have discretion to make an exception, but the ordinance is clear,'' he said. "You can do that because of the extenuating circumstances of this, not saying it's a practice you should adopt in future ones.''

City Administrator Michael Schmit said Green Mill would have been closed Dec. 8 through 12 if the matter had been resolved and the ordinance followed after the first hearing.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said the facts are not in dispute. He said the server did not ask the decoy for her identification. He said the intent of the ordinance is to keep underage persons being served alcohol.

"Is there a better way to handle it, I don't know. I am a stickler for the rules. We have to stay with it,'' he said.

Committee member Tim Johnson said the server recognized the decoy from past experience and made an honest mistake in believing the decoy was legally allowed to be served. He said the decoy didn't affirmatively misrepresent her age, but indirectly misrepresented her age.

"We have people who have no intent to do anything wrong. The server made an assumption. That's what bothers me. It's a status offense. The server doesn't intend to do anything wrong,'' he said.

Doug Reese said he was not sure how the decoy misrepresented her age.

"It's our law,'' he said. "We've said how these businesses have to operate. One of those things is compliance checks and they have to ask (for identification) to make sure they're not selling to somebody. The consequences are set by the council. Other businesses failed and paid the price for doing so. We have no other choice but to follow the law we set.''

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