Fines too late

Brian Bloom

Two weeks ago in this space I commended Bartlett’s Board of Aldermen for issuing swift and decisive judgments against a seemingly growing list of establishments selling alcohol to minors.

I believed then, as I do now, that demanding identification should be a requirement for those with permit privileges and if they violate the same, businesses should face the penalties set forth in City Ordinance.

Today, however I believe the aldermen’s most recent action to borders on vindictive.

Due to a still undisclosed “glitch” 10 Bartlett businesses, including the former supermarket chain Schnucks and popular Bartlett restaurant Fresh Slices, were alleged to have sold alcohol to individuals less than 21 years of age and never faced the sanctions of the Bartlett Beer Board. These violators had already been to court and had already paid substantial fines – all within standard time frames of the offense. But Tuesday they paid again – for crimes alleged to have been committed as many as five years previous.

Three of these businesses no longer operate in Bartlett. Others operate under different ownership when the violations occurred.

The board, in accessing the fines ranging from $500 to $1,500, stated they had to take the action in case any of these businesses wanted to reopen in Bartlett. Yet we wonder – if in the case of Fresh Slices - five years has passed without another incident, does the hand really need to be slapped?

Schnucks, the longtime now departed grocery chain was a multiple violator. Based upon the board’s actions, outstanding fines would have to be paid before opening back up in Bartlett. So I wonder, would the City of Bartlett actually refuse to allow a competitor grocery chain back in the market over 1,500 bucks?

The mayor and aldermen have even gone so far to ask store owners and managers if the clerk that sold the alcohol was fired. The reality is it’s none of their business.

All the alleged violators in attendance accepted the board’s $500 to $1,500 penalties with only minor objection, yet at least one alderman did.

Bobby Simmons has voiced concerns for several weeks over the board’s ability to dig back multiple years to access fines. Bartlett’s current ordinance doesn’t restrict a time frame. Simmons believes it should.

“Some of these events happened three, four, five years ago,” Simmons pointed out. “Since then they’ve not been in trouble and we punish them now because we didn’t know. Who punishes us when we make mistakes,” he said.

Bartlett’s aldermen are currently attempting to pass a revised alcohol ordinance. Simmons believes violators should be prosecuted but the board should react on recent issues, not those three, five or even 20 years prior. The majority of the board seems to disagree.

There’s no excuse for Bartlett businesses to allow the sale of alcohol to minors. Penalties should be set forth that reflect that the selling of alcohol is a permitted privilege that can be revoked. Yet statute of limitations exist in virtually every criminal environ. This should be no different.