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‘User-friendly’ ABC Board takes its work on the road

(Published December 13, 1999)


Staff Writer

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board held a recent town meeting in Ward 6 to introduce itself to Ward 6 residents and learn about their concerns.

Board member Ellen Opper-Weiner, who moderated the town hall meeting, said this board was trying to be more "user friendly" than past ABC boards, which she heard were unresponsive to residents’ concerns.

The board’s greatest challenge, she said, is balancing the rights of residents with those of business owners when making decisions.

"It is a balance that is difficult to strike, but it is a balance that must be struck," said board chairman Roderic L. Woodson. "In my view, the best resolution to problems come from the parties themselves."

Woodson called first-time arrests of those serving underage drinkers "extreme" and questioned why first-time offenders were being "carried off in an inglorious fashion" from their establishments.

The arrests, said Opper-Weiner, were a product of sting operations funded from May to September by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The board held a Dec. 6 community forum at Hine Jr. High School on Capitol Hill. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6A, 6B and 6C, the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals and the Metropolitan Police Department sponsored the meeting. All liquor licensees in Ward 6 were invited. The board has already visited Ward 1 and Ward 8.

"We’re trying to get to every ward," Said Opper-Weiner.

Woodson urged business owners and residents to make voluntary agreements because he said a mutually agreeable solution would resolve a situation better than one imposed by the board’s regulators. Any remedy the board imposed, he said, would not resolve a problem but would only create a situation in which one party prevails and the other loses. He encouraged them to inform the board of already existing voluntary agreements.

Fred Moosally, the board’s legal counsel, warned that licensees could be held liable for violations of the voluntary agreements. They should be careful, he said, not to make agreements they would not be able honor if an they found that adhering to overly stringent conditions would hurt their profits.

"Licensees should make sure they can survive economically," said Moosally.

Woodson also recommended modifying the penalty for underage drinking so that first- and second-time offenders would receive citations. But, he added, the board did not want to send the wrong message to underage drinkers.

"Serving underage drinkers is never permissible -- ask any college president, ask any high school principal," said Woodson, who recently testified before the city council’s judiciary committee about a bill to soften the penalties faced by first-time offenders.

Councilman Harold Brazil, D-At large, who chairs the judiciary committee, said making service to underage drinkers a civil offense would be effective in combating the problem.

"Give (offenders) a citation that makes them go to court," said Brazil.

Molly LeGath, the general manager of the Station Grill at Union Station, said she agrees with the proposed changes.

"We do try to keep up with the law but it is a very hard thing," said LeGath, who said her establishment requires drinkers to show identification. "Look at kids today. They don’t look 15 and 17."

In other news, Laura Byrd, the board’s adjudication specialist, described two ways residents could file their objections to new liquor license applications before the ABC board.

Residents could file a "14B opposition," which she said would result in the board holding a hearing and making a decision based on the evidence presented at the hearing. Or, she said, they could file a "14E opposition," in which she said residents would have to obtain 50 percent plus one of the signatures of the registered voters in their ANC. If residents obtained this many from residents of the ANC, the board would have to automatically deny an applicant’s license.

In a subsequent interview, ANC 6B executive director Gottlieb Simon said underage drinking is of great concern to establishment operators in his neighborhood.

"Some restaurant operators have clearly indicated that they card everybody and that’s not a problem," Simon said. He added that the ANC has not taken a position on pending reforms to the city’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator