Council postpones liquor vote

By Michael Berg

The disagreement between DeKalb’s mayoral candidates over a five-member liquor commission is continuing, but a final decision on the matter will not be made by the city council until after next Tuesday’s local elections.

The council voted Monday to postpone the decision on the ordinance until the next meeting, which is slated for April 26. The ordinance calls for a five-member commission to assist the mayor, who also serves as liquor commissioner, in his duties. This commission would serve only in an advisory role, with the mayor still responsible for the final decision in any violation hearing. The mayor also would have the option to choose not to fill the positions.

Council members who voted to postpone the decision cited the lack of enough information as their reason. “We don’t have all the information yet,” said 1st Ward Alderman Amy Polzin. “Until we get the attorney general’s opinion, to vote on it is ludicrous.”

Mayoral candidate and 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh said he was confident the bill would pass. “We made great progress tonight,” he said. “(The ordinance) passed through the first reading. It is progress we hoped to have had 24 months ago.”

Welsh also attacked DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow at the council meeting and afterward. “We have a liquor commissioner who thinks being liquor commissioner means you spend as much time in the taverns as you possibly can,” Welsh said at the meeting, reading from a prepared statement.

“We have an arrogant, egotistical person who wants control of a particular industry that I think the people should be in control of,” Welsh said after the meeting.

Welsh asked Sparrow about the proposal during the meeting. “Whether I’m mayor or not, we will get (a liquor commission),” he said. “I ask you (Sparrow), will you use it as commissioner?”

Sparrow refused to answer during the meeting. “I will not answer questions tonight, but wait to see if it gets that far,” he said.

Afterward, Sparrow said Welsh brought up the issue at that time for purely political reasons. “Why did he wait until now to make it an issue?” he said. “He brought this up 18 months ago, figuring it would be an issue. By that time he had made the decision that he was running for mayor.”

Sparrow also said Welsh contradicts himself between what he says and his prior voting record. “For the finance advisory board, which is of a greater vital nature, he voted to get rid of it,” Sparrow said. That board was initiated in 1981, and it advised the council on matters concerning spending and raising city money. “Then the council didn’t need the advice on how to spend or raise money, and now he says we need a board in an area where the mayor is legally told to make the decisions.”

Sparrow said Welsh used deceptive tactics. “The guy likes to give allusions, and he’s an illusion himself,” Sparrow said. “He’s very deceptive in what he’s saying.”

Welsh said there is a problem in DeKalb, because in the last six years there have been no liquor hearings. “We have a liquor commissioner whose own record on enforcement is the worst of any college town in the midwest,” Welsh said.

However, as liquor commissioner, it is not his job to make the law or enforce it, Sparrow said. “I adjudicate where there is a violation,” he said. “I let the police chief do his job. If he’s got a problem, believe me, he’ll bring it to me.”

For a hearing to take place, the police chief and the city attorney must decide if one is necessary and then bring their decision to the mayor. “If we need a hearing, I have never hesitated to move along to a hearing,” Sparrow said.

“The police chief, who’s been here about 25 years, said he remembers eight hearings (altogether) during his tenure,” Sparrow said. “I have handled seven of those.”

Welsh also pointed out contributions Sparrow has received from the liquor industry to his campaign fund. “We have a liquor commissioner who openly solicits major political contributions from the industry he is entrusted to regulate,” Welsh said.

In the last five years, Sparrow has received $4,500 in contributions from the liquor industry, Welsh said. “That doesn’t include donations under $150,” he said.

Sparrow said the donations were not money. “These are in-kind donations,” Sparrow said. “They give liquor or food for campaign fundraisers.”

Originally, Welsh accused Sparrow of taking $7,000 in donations from liquor establishments. Later, he admitted this was a mistake.

Sparrow said the accusations and the mistakes do not surprise him. “He’s grabbing at straws trying to keep a campaign afloat that never got off the ground,” Sparrow said. “He started with trash, he’s ending with trash.”