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City: No favoritism was shown to Green Mill

WILLMAR -- Council members say they are not showing favoritism to Green Mill by delaying its penalty for illegally selling alcohol to an underage person.

The council voted Monday to delay a five-day suspension of Green Mill's liquor sales until Jan. 3-7 as requested by the restaurant rather than imposing the suspension during holiday sales time.

Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson reported the committee's recommendation to deny Green Mill's appeal.

The penalty includes a $750 fine.

Mayor Les Heitke requested comments from council members. After about seven seconds of silence, Heitke said he had heard comments that the council was showing preference to one business over another, that the essence of public law is fairness and equality and that showing preference is not fair and equal treatment under the law.

The other business Heitke was referring to was the Kandi Entertainment Center, which along with Green Mill and five other establishments in October failed the Police Department's twice-a-year liquor license compliance check by selling alcohol to an underage person who was hired by the police to be a decoy.

A KEC spokesman had said the establishment lost $3,000 in business during the suspension, whereas Green Mill officials said they would lose $10,000 in business during the holiday season.

The KEC did not appeal the violation, as did Green Mill, but voluntarily paid the $750 fine and suspended alcohol sales from Nov. 22 to 26 prior to the council's imposing the penalty. Green Mill was to have paid the fine and suspended sales on Nov. 27, but appealed the citation.

The Finance Committee forwarded the appeal to the council, pending the outcome of a criminal case against the server involved. But the council on Dec. 7 denied the appeal and sent the issue back to the Finance Committee for more discussion.

Anderson said the committee back-and-forth did cause some delays.

"That delayed it,'' he said. "We kind of put this thing off. Ultimately we wanted to come up with something that we thought maybe was fair. We need to have a work session to talk about this ordinance. Get something into this appeal process. This has gotten out of hand. I hope to get it clarified if it needs clarification or at least discussed a little bit more at a work session.''

Councilman Tim Johnson said he has heard some of the same comments, but he said one business in violation of the ordinance established its own suspension period and didn't wait or follow the time sequence in the ordinance.

"I don't think in this case we're doing anything different than what's already been done,'' he said.

"I don't see that Green Mill's getting any favoritism when another entity was allowed to select their own suspension period, which is clearly outside my understanding of what the ordinance provides for. Otherwise the suspension period would have been during a different time period than what they elected to have. I don't see that this is a problem as far as fairness is concerned.''

Councilman Bruce DeBlieck also said he'd heard the same concerns, but said Green Mill initially appealed the suspension, which the council overturned.

DeBlieck asked City Attorney Rich Ronning if the council was setting policy.

Ronning said the council was not setting policy. He said comparing Green Mill's and KEC's circumstances was not fair.

"If the KEC had filed an appeal just as Green Mill did and you treated the KEC differently on the same facts as you treated the Green Mill, yes, you'd have a problem. They weren't treated equally. The KEC did not file an appeal. They elected to be closed during a period of time ... in any event they acted voluntarily. So the circumstances are not the same,'' he said.

Also, he said the Finance Committee confused Green Mill's situation with a situation at Double D Club in which an officer saw a person, who was not a decoy, being served because the person had shown a false identification.

Ronning said the Finance Committee apparently felt that it should tie that situation with Green Mill, where the server thought the decoy to be of legal age. But in the Double D case, the county attorney refused to prosecute the server because the person buying the alcoholic beverage had in fact used a false ID in the past.

"I think the Finance Committee did confuse the two situations, thought they were the same, and did the same thing as they did in the earlier one, which they shouldn't have done,'' he said.

"That being the case, it got delayed, and I don't think it's precedent-setting. Hopefully this kind of mistake won't be made again in the future.''

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