Metro-East News

Money grab or safety issue? East St. Louis stepping up fines for violating liquor-sale regs

East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said the goal of the new fines is to improve public safety.
East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said the goal of the new fines is to improve public safety. News-Democrat

The city of East St. Louis is trying to step up enforcement of regulations on liquor-selling establishments by setting up new fines.

But owners of businesses that sell liquor are fearful that their profits will be hurt, and wonder if the city is just looking for another revenue source.

Several of the business owners attended a recent public hearing to learn about the fees that are going to be assessed.

Natavia Sanders, the city’s former deputy liquor commissioner who was involved in planning for the new fines, explained the changes.

“For example, signage on liquor-selling establishments allows for two signs. They can have two liquor signs and two tobacco signs according to city ordinance. But, having signs plastered all over the place is a violation, and individuals will be fined $100 per sign over the two that are allowed,” Sanders said.

Fines also would be assessed on establishments that don’t keep their security cameras operational, or don’t maintain lighting, or don’t keep their property free of trash. Footage from security cameras must be maintained for police use for at least seven days.

Sanders said the idea is to “educate first, then regulate.”

“They get a warning first and then they have two weeks to come into compliance,” Sanders said.

They get a warning first and then they have two weeks to come into compliance.

Natavia Sanders, former East St. Louis deputy liquor commissioner

Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said none of the fees are final. She said she was open to discussion with the owners and their attorney. She said she’s not trying to run businesses out of the city. Safety is the No. 1 priority, she said.

Retail liquor license holders have hired an attorney, Eric Evans from Granite City, to represent them. He said he is meeting with the mayor Friday to see whether there is a way to compromise and avoid court litigation.

The city’s current ordinance calls for security guards at liquor-selling establishments to be licensed, bonded and insured. As an alternative, city officials said a new proposal would allow hiring security guards who have at least 20 hours of security training.

Some owners at the meeting said they can’t afford additional costs. Some said they feel the city is nit-picking them out of business at a time that the city can’t afford to lose businesses.

A longtime insurance salesman, Bill Mixon, said the businesses can’t hire individual security guards who are licensed, bonded and insured. He said only a security company, not an individual security guard, can be licensed, bonded and insured.

Some of the bar owners said they couldn’t afford to pay for 20 hours of security training. They said they felt the city should provide adequate police protection for citizens and businesses. They pointed out that a security guard is no substitute for a police officer. Some of them said they may have to close their businesses if they are forced to pay for the 20 hours of training.

Current ordinances require nightclubs to have one security guard for every 50 patrons. They are required to wear apparel that identifies them as security guards.

Sanders said security guards at some establishments aren’t wearing apparel that identifies them as guards. The city says guards need to wear apparel that identifies them as guards so that city inspectors can determine whether enough guards are present.

Gas stations that sell liquor are required to have a security guard every night, after 10 p.m.

Copies of the city’s liquor laws can be obtained from the city clerk’s office. For state laws, individuals need to go to the Illinois Liquor Commission website at www.illinois.gov/ilcc.

Sanders resigned June 3, after three months on the job. She said she had difficulty getting cooperation from people, and the stress was high.

“There was very little participation and cooperation from city officials and attorneys in helping me get things done,” Sanders said.

She also said she has multiple sclerosis and doesn’t want the stress to cause her MS to flare up.

Sanders said she plans to advocate for East St. Louis residents.

“Accountability and transparency is what Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks promised the people. I believe she is trying keep to that promise. I want to thank her for this opportunity to serve,” Sanders said.

She added, “At the end of the day, it was all about safety, cleanliness and uniformity. I did the best I could. I love my city and I want residents like myself to enjoy a safe, wholesome environment. I know that for other economic opportunities to come about, the environment has to be safe, sanitary, and have the appearance of caring owners.”

Matt Hawkins, a longtime East St. Louis resident, community activist and consultant to some of the business owners, said, “We need to help people keep their businesses. Fining them and increasing taxes on them is not going to help them stay in business.

He added: “The idea of raising taxes and charging them fees while the city is losing population is suicide. There are no new customers coming to East St. Louis.”

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503

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