The Illinois Liquor Control Commission’s decision last month reversing Rock Island, Illinois’ denial of a liquor license represented the beginning of the end of a contentious two-year battle. “The Gathering” was issued a liquor license after the Town of Rock Island decided they would no longer fight.
The local government’s power over a liquor licensee is powerful but not absolute. If the local government exercises abuse or evidence does not support its sanction against a licensee, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission has grounds for overturning the local sanctions and returning the licensee’s rights back to them.
If a licensee considers government action as abusive or there is a lack of evidence to support allegations against the licensee, the licensee should not hesitate to appeal the local government’s decision.
Over a two-year period the Gathering met great resistance in obtaining a liquor license. At every stop Rock Island tried to prevent them from obtaining a license. For The Gathering, which will operate as a night club, not having a liquor license is fatal.
When I became involved, the relationship already deteriorated and the government was hell bent on denial.
Under Rock Island’s law there are some circumstances where you need to get a requisite amount of signatures, but you can apply for a signature waiver request, these are routinely granted, except when it came to The Gathering. The waiver request was denied. Some of the evidence used against The Gathering was it was serving alcohol before it was open based on a St. Patrick’s Day flyer, although a police investigation did not notice alcohol when they walked in that night to the premises.
At one point in the proceedings the mayor noted that there was video demonstrating The Gathering’s violation, when the owner of The Gathering asked that the video be used, the mayor indicated he hadn’t seen the video yet.
Even with the terrible and refutable evidence, the Board in Rock Island ruled against The Gathering.
On my advice The Gathering refiled its signature waiver request, this time it was granted. However, the mayor who has the last say on liquor licenses denied the license. One of the grounds is new evidence came to light not presented at the hearing that influenced the mayor’s denial. What is interesting is the evidentiary events happened months before the hearing and my client did not have the opportunity to answer these charges. In addition to questionable evidence, the mayor was not providing my client proper due process.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) overturned the decision of the mayor on appeal. Rock Island decided not to fight the decision and ultimately the liquor license was granted.
So, what drove a local mayor to refuse to issue a license on a legal grounds that was so weak that the ILCC decided to unanimously rule against the mayor?
First, I think this case had racial overtones and that The Gathering was denied a license based on racial factors. Second, the mayor believed that if he issued the license that The Gathering would be a trouble spot. That maybe the mayor’s thoughts, but his thoughts aren’t the law. Just because you think something maybe a problem does not justify it. There must be concrete evidence that there is great potential for a problem. No evidence existed to demonstrate this point of view.
Third, the Village’s evidence was fabricated or nonexistent, and fourth, The Gathering was denied Due Process.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission often times defers to local control, however, when there is abuse of government authority or the evidence does not prove the existence of the government’s allegation, the ILCC will overturn a local government’s decision.