Council debates measure to close bars

The liquor control division needs more officers to enforce laws, Letson said.
WARREN -- A city council proposal to allow voters to shut down bars in their neighborhoods needs to be substantially reworked so the legislation cannot be used on "a witch hunt," state Rep. Tom Letson, of Warren, D-64th, said Monday.
Letson and Dan Banks, a representative for state Sen. Capri Cafaro, of Liberty, D-32nd, met with council's legislative committee to discuss a proposed ordinance that urges the Ohio General Assembly to allow Ohioans to remove liquor establishments through the ballot box.
The legislation as it now stands allows anyone to challenge a liquor license for any reason, which could lead to discrimination, Letson said.
"Whether it's a gay bar in a straight neighborhood, a black bar in a white neighborhood, or an Irish pub in a Slovak neighborhood, this could be used on a witch hunt," he said.
Respectable business owners also could be targeted for financial reasons, Banks said.
"There's only a limited number of licenses available," he said. "People could start trying to pick one another off for financial gain."
Seeks to allow petitions
The legislation, co-sponsored by Alford L. Novak, D-2nd, and Robert L. Dean Jr., D-at large, asks Ohio legislators to allow voters to circulate petitions in their ward or precinct to put an issue on the ballot to close a bar or other liquor establishment.
Novak said he has grown increasingly frustrated with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control's handling of problem cases.
"In my many years on council, we've complained about 25 cases, and we've only been effective in shutting one down," he said. "The Division of Liquor Control is more concerned about the taxes they collect from the businesses than what's really going on in the neighborhoods."
Letson said the liquor control division needs more officers to properly enforce the laws that are now on the books. He urged council members to pass legislation asking the Ohio General Assembly to increase the funding and number of officers for the liquor control division.
Dean, legislative committee chairman, said he and Novak will work with liquor control officials and state legislators to re-fashion the legislation before presenting it to council members for a vote.

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