In response to recent Missouri Division of Liquor Control budget cuts, Columbia is considering adopting new programs for alcohol enforcement, including creating an independent liquor control board. These issues were discussed at the City Council meeting Monday night.
The Division of Liquor Control reduced its number of field agents this year from 80 to 54. Special Agent Bill Alton is the only field agent overseeing Boone and five surrounding counties. Working out of his home in Moberly, Alton is in charge of an area that has 500 licensed premises that serve alcohol.
The report was prepared by Sgt. Danny Grant, supervisor of the Columbia Police Department’s Community Services Unit. The new independent Columbia liquor control board would be similar to one already established in Jefferson City. The board would handle licensing and renewal of establishments that sell alcohol and would have the power to suspend or revoke licenses of violators.
In addition to an independent liquor control board, Grant is working with the city’s fire department in creating a 15- to 20-minute training video for local bar owners, managers and employees on proper bar safety. Grant said he couldn’t in good conscience enforce the laws at local bars without offering them training.
Currently, the Community Action Team, a division of Community Services, handles walk-throughs, surprise bar visits and other assignments relating to alcohol enforcement.
Council members also asked Monday that there be clearer standards for the police in determining if an establishment is violating its license agreement to serve alcohol. A liquor control board would be able to point out clear cases of violation, members said.
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash voiced some concern about how aggressive the proposed liquor control board would be.
“It seems that they are going to be a little more vigorous pulling licenses,” Ash said.
Ash owns Bambino’s Italian Cafe, a restaurant that serves alcohol. He said he would like to see something less drastic, such as graduating fines to punish violators. Ash said pulling a liquor license is like the death penalty for the business of a bar or restaurant.
“There are honest mistakes that happen,” Ash said.
The future of liquor control enforcement in Columbia should be a cooperative, not adversarial, relationship between police and restaurant and bar owners, he said.
Alton said that the Columbia Police Department is doing a good job with alcohol enforcement.
“We have an excellent relationship,” Alton said.
The council will consider modifying the city’s alcohol enforcement laws, possibly including the addition of a liquor control board.