By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Madison Mayor and City Council are considering altering the penalties for alcohol sale violations—specifically the penalties for selling alcohol to a minor. If the council adopts the new ordinance, a first time offense of selling alcohol to a minor would result in a three-day alcohol sale suspension and a $1000 fine. The debate started last May after the local Ingles incurred a seven-day alcohol suspension, as is the standard penalty prescribed in the ordinance, when a cashier accidentally sold alcohol to a minor who was a part of an undercover sting. Ingles appealed their case to the city council, asking for an increased fine instead of the seven-day suspension of alcohol sales on account of their community involvement and increased employee training and oversight to prevent such an incident from ever occurring again.
The request split the city council, with Council members Joe DiLetto and Carrie Peters Reid wanting to uphold the full seven-day suspension and with members Chris Hodges and Rick Blanton wanting to cut Ingles a break. Mayor Fred Perriman sided with Hodges and Blanton, and wanted to find an alternative punishment for the company. However, after several meetings concerning the matter and much debate, the seven-day suspension ultimately prevailed after a stern warning from City Attorney Joe Reitman.
“You have the discretion to depart from [the ordinance] but beware of the precedent you would set with that,” said Reitman back in May. “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.” Council members agreed that it would be unfair to make a special exception to Ingles, when other local businesses were forced to abide by the longstanding recommended punishment found in the City’s ordinance. However, Ingles’ case inspired the council members to seven-day sale suspension might be too harsh for a first time offense. The council promised to revisit the alcohol sales ordinance to see if revisions could be made. At last Friday’s work session, the council considered a proposal to cut the alcohol sale suspension for the first offense down to three days instead of seven days and to raise the fine from $500 to $1000.
“I think that’s a fair trade off,” said Councilwoman Chris Hodges. Hodges was also concerned about the current recommended penalty for the second alcohol sale violation within 18 months—a 60-day alcohol sale suspension and a $1500 fine.
“That just seems really steep to me,” said Hodges. “I think we should maybe consider a 30-day suspension for the second offense. That seems more reasonable to me.”
Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn noted that the alcohol sale violations can be a little tricky when you consider that business owners usually bear the brunt of the penalty when it was an employee who makes the mistake.
“This is where it gets complicated,” said Ashburn. “If you have an employee the owners trusted and that employee makes the violation, it’s the owners who get hit with this.”
“This is something we really need to think about,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. The council we revisit the issue at a future meeting.