Town of Milton seeking "objective" bar rules

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Neil Johnson
Monday, October 14, 2013

After a shooting at a local tavern earlier this year, the Milton Town Board is angling toward a point demerit system that would allow the town to punish bar owners for misbehavior.

If put into place, the system would give the board latitude to deny to suspend liquor licenses renewals for taverns that rack up violations of state statute—including illegal outdoor music, serving underage drinkers and for fights leading to bodily harm.

Right now, the town has no system to punish taverns for such violations.

The board voted Monday to pursue a draft ordinance similar to a demerit system with a due process system already in place in the town of Fulton, but it did not approve the ordinance.

While town Chairman Bryan Meyer said he believes the town needs a system that “could be a tool to work through potential concerns,” he advised the board to hold off on putting a demerit system in place. He suggested the board get more legal review of the ordinance by town attorney David Moore.

Meyer said the town must be careful to craft a demerit system that reviews alleged liquor law violations “objectively,” and without the board automatically jumping to license suspension.

“My initial thought is this proposal would probably not be an ultimatum, (but more) identifying concerns and ways to correct them,” he said.

According to the draft ordinance, the town would have authority to tally demerit points against tavern owners for “court-imposed convictions or adjudications” of statute violations including:

-- Open containers in parking lots or off tavern premises.

-- Fights or altercations causing physical harm to others.

-- Illegal music after hours.

-- Sale of controlled substances.

Under the draft ordinance, the town could hold a hearing decide whether to suspend or deny renewal of a liquor license for any tavern that racks up 100 or more points in a calendar year.

Meyer told the board he'd like to see some demerit system in place before January 2014, when taverns owners begin renewing liquor licenses.

The board brought up the idea of a point demerit system after a June shooting in the parking lot of the Countryside Inn, 1801 E. Highway 59, Milton.

The shooting occurred as people were leaving a hip-hop dance party at the tavern. A fight broke out in the parking lot and escalated. One man was shot several times and injured, according to police reports.

Countryside Inn owner Rich Erdman held three more dance parties at the tavern in the weeks after the shooting. At each one, the Rock County Sheriff's Office sent as many as eight sheriff's deputies to keep an eye on things, Rock County Sheriff's Capt. Jude Maurer said.

On Monday, Erdman spoke to the board about other complaints at his bar during the hip-hop parties. Town Police Chief Tom Kunkel provided police reports of a fight between two women outside the bar, and a July 20 arrest at the tavern of a promoter running one of Erdman's dance parties.

The promoter had an outstanding warrant, Kunkel said.

Meyer pointed out that the bar has had no specific statute violations in the last month.

Erdman told The Gazette he thinks a demerit system could be fair, but he's worried about being raked over the coals for issues he can't control, such as people pulling into his parking lot with open containers. 

He said he feels statutory law is enough to enforce rules at bars.

“We already have a system when they (police) issue citations,” Erdman said. “When you break the law, you have to be accountable.”

Last updated: 5:27 pm Monday, October 14, 2013

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