By Tia Lynn Ivey
It looks as though Ingles in Madison will catch a break on a seven-day alcohol sale suspension as penalty for selling alcohol to an underage customer, after the company took their case before the Madison Mayor and City Council. But it has yet to be determined exactly what the penalty for Ingles will be instead.
The Madison Mayor and City Council tabled a vote Monday night to decide how to punish the local Ingles for an alcohol sales violation earlier this year, when a teenage Ingles employee sold alcohol to an underage decoy working with law enforcement. The council debated at length whether or not to uphold the city ordinance that mandates a seven-day alcohol sale suspension along with a $500 fine or to increase the fine in lieu of a suspension.
Councilman Joe DiLetto made a motion to uphold the city’s ordinance that mandates the suspension, which was seconded by Councilwoman Carrie Peters Reid. “The ordinance is the ordinance and I think we have to abide by that…I think a lot of people would be upset if we don’t,” said DiLetto.
Council members Rick Blanton and Chris Hodges voted against the DiLetto’s motion, while Councilman Bobby Crawford abstained, leaving Mayor Fred Perriman to break the tie. Perriman voted against upholding the suspension, opting to show mercy to Ingles, citing the company’s impressive community-involvement record and aggressive implementation of new store policies to ensure an alcohol sale to an underage customer never happens again.
“We live in a small town where we try to do the right thing for our citizens and our businesses,” said Perriman. “This business gives a bunch back to our community. We commend Ingles for hiring many of our young people, but being young, mistakes are made. But because they have put things in place and because they are a vital part of our community, I am going to vote against upholding the suspension.”
Once DiLetto’s motion died, the council was faced with the difficult task of determining how to proceed with punishing Ingles instead of the customary alcohol sales suspension for one week.
City Attorney Joe Reitman warned the council that whatever decision they make will inevitably affect how other alcohol sale violations are handled in the future.
“You have the discretion to depart from [the ordinance] but beware of the precedent you would set with that,” said Reitman, who also noted the potential backlash from other violators who served out their seven-day alcohol sale suspension. “If you go a different way on this, you might have to consider changing the ordinance altogether because what you do tonight, it will essentially be a template for what you do in the future.”
DiLetto suggested increasing the $500 tenfold to $5000 and requiring each of Ingle’s five managers to perform 40 hours of community service. “I think we are opening up a can of worms here,” said DiLetto. “If we pass on this suspension of sales for a week, it has to be stiff. It’s got to be punitive.”
Hodges supported coming up with an increased fine amount, but thought mandating community service would be unenforceable.
Blanton suggested possibly implementing an increased fine based on a certain percentage of Ingles’ alcohol sales.
City Manager David Nunn spoke in favor of Ingles, though he does not get a vote. “I think the one thing we should remember is that the ordinance’s object is meant to be a deterrent…the objective is to make people do better. And with Ingles and Mr. Scanland, I don’t know of any store that has tried as hard as they have,” said Nunn, “I don’t know that it could be any better than this case.”
The council ultimately decided to hold off until the next city council work session to decide how to proceed.
“I hate to drag this out any longer, but I would hate more to make a decision based on no information,” said Blanton.
The council is expected to render a decision on the matter at the June 2 work session.