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Burns Blasts Idea of Allowing Liquor License Holders to Seek Office

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns takes a hard stance this week against a code change that would let liquor-license holders run for alderman.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns this week blasted the City Council's stated position to allow liquor-license holders to run for public office.

At the tail end of Monday's Geneva City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Burns underlined in bold his stance that the city code is right to prohibit liquor license holders from holding an aldermanic position.

"We don’t have a problem, folks," Burns said. "But I think we have a problem by amending the code."

First Ward Alderman Sam Hill brought up the notion at the fifth-Monday COW meeting on July 31. On that night, , but he did ask the City Council to consider amending its code to allow liquor-license holders to run for an aldermanic post. He asked as a matter of policy, of course, but the change would also allow Mike Olesen, owner of Stockholm's, to throw his hat into the 1st Ward ring come April.

In an 8-2 straw poll on July 31, the Committee of the Whole favored amending city ordinance to allow liquor-license holders to seek an aldermanic seat.

"I am 300 percent opposed," Burns said Monday night. "The mental gymnastics shown that evening would have rivaled (the U.S. Olympics team.)"

Some of the arguments at the July meeting were that the law was outdated, a Prohibition-era leftover that was obsolute in this day and age. Burns disagreed, saying it was bad policy.

"You don't change a law to accommodate one person," he said. "(This is) the one person who said, 'This is not about me,' and a nanosecond after that said, 'I’m a candidate.' My role, I believe, is in part to protect and preserve the integrity of this governing body."

Burns said having a liquor-license holder on the City Council would be a slippery slope, in part because the alderman would have to abstain on so many topics that come before the board. He said votes on everything from hiring a police officer to building code enforcement "would rise to the level of a license-holder having to recuse himself or herself from a vote."

"A happenstance conflict of interest is one thing," he said. "A regular conflict of interest is something different."

Burns said his position "has not changed and will not change."

"My God, we just  because of morality, perception and image ... I am against amending a code that raises suspicious—real or perceived—conflict of interest."

If given the opportunity, Olesen would face off against , who announced his candidacy for the 1st Ward seat in a June press conference on the Courthouse step, and Mike Bruno, who announced his candidacy on Aug. 15 on the front steps of his home in the Geneva Historic District.  also has said he would seek the 1st Ward position.

Nate August 30, 2012 at 11:20 PM
He said votes on everything from hiring a police officer to building code enforcement "would rise to the level of a license-holder having to recuse himself or herself from a vote." I say BS. Other than items pertaining to liquor establishments this is no different than any Geneva business owner serving on the city council. Really, Burns thinks they would have to abstain on a vote to hiring a police officer? Give me a break.
Rick Anderson August 31, 2012 at 02:42 AM
The way this article reads you would think Mayor Burns really is blasting all barrells and throwing smoke screens at something the public could care less about; the character, integrity and honesty of electing a new alderman for Ward 1 is top priority. My God, tone it down Mr. 300%.
Tony Pronenko August 31, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Seems to me that if we all thought like Mr. Burns it wouldn't matter what type of business you owned, you would be a bad fit for any government office. Hypothetically speaking, you could raise an argument about a conflict of interest being an issue with ANY policy debate based on the "seat holders" religion, sports preference, business ownership, or what kind of car they drive. It should be the persons character and morals that determine their qualifications - nothing else. Sorry Burns, you're wrong on this one.
Metamict State August 31, 2012 at 01:32 PM
I've been following the Patch articles about this subject, and while I understand the arguments for amending the code, I really don't understand the reasons for maintaining the status quo. Mayor Burns cites examples of possible conflicts of interest; and there may be something to this, but the article (or Mr. Burns) doesn't supply anything more specific. I'd like to know if Mr. Burns can present five examples from the past year where an alderman holding a liquor holder would have been reasonably expected to abstain. This information, I think, would permit the public (and possibly the council) to have a more justifying the retention of such a law, for on the surface, there doesn't seem to be any strong reason to maintain it.
lablover August 31, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I find it totally ironic that Mayor Burns is against liquor license owners to run for office when, for many years, the Mayor of Geneva was a major liquor consumer.......it's very hard to take that one seriously. !!
Tony Pronenko August 31, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Lately it is hard to take much of what is said by politicians seriously. Especially when you are forced to analyze almost every word out of their pie-hole just to be sure there is no alterior motive to their statements.
Colin C. August 31, 2012 at 03:21 PM
I don't have a personal stake in this issue but I can see serious potential problems with a Council member or any City official or employee having such a license. I think that this is the only, or one of very few City licenses that is awarded by the Council and has serious penalties for infractions that are adjudicated by the Mayor or the Mayor's designate. If a license holder is in violation and the issue must be judged by his or her colleagues on the Council it opens the door to speculation that political alliances or differences may come into play. Would City employees tend to treat a person who votes on their contract differently if they hold a liquor license, even if only subconsciously? Perhaps not but might suspicion arise if an incident does occur? This has nothing to do with alcohol or business per se, it is a matter of inviting the appearance of a conflict of interest. Why open that can of worms in the first place? If someone wishes to serve on the City Council they have a choice between serving or holding a license, but not both. There are many other ways to serve Geneva without being on the Council. There are appointed commissions and boards, the Chamber of Commerce, and lots of paths to service that would not raise any problem. I think that the regulation should be left as it is. Should we wish to change it perhaps a referendum could be held on the matter as a part of a regular election and let the people of Geneva decide.
Terry Flanagan August 31, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Colin, There is a potential problem with any number of positions in which one might serve - Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic Preservation, and the council. And there is no way of assuring that everything that everyone does in their capacity as a member of any of these bodies will be above suspicion. Human beings are imperfect and regardless of what anyone does, there will always be someone else who suspects they have ulterior motives. Impropriety is often in the eye of the beholder. That's not to say that people will not engage in dishonest behavior. But there is no reason to believe that anyone is more or less dishonest because of his position in society, his relationships, or his business. Our entire system of government and justice depends upon our willingness to take a gamble on the character of our fellow citizens. Whether we serve in public office, on a jury, or in a profession we all have a set of standards that we should abide by. If we are unwilling to accept those conditions then there is no point in anyone serving in any capacity.
Colin C. August 31, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Terry, (in response to the comment below) You are correct, of course, that a potential for a conflict of interest arises virtually anytime anyone chooses to serve the City in a formal or informal way. However, I think that serving as a paid City official on the City Council, which is charged by law as the only elected body that makes fiduciary decisions for the City, is quite different than serving on an advisory board or in some other volunteer position which only advises and recommends to the City Council.
Terry Flanagan August 31, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Colin, The issue is not whether one position has greater responsibility or liability over another position. It's a matter of whether we are going to judge someone by what they might be tempted to do once placed in that position. Is the risk of bad behavior inherenty greater in this case and should we assume that potential is always the same as outcome. Anyone in any position has the potential to be compromised by any situation. It's how a person deals with those situations that matters. I'm inclined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Considering that we do background checks on liquor license holders to ensure that they are of good moral character, having a license might actually tip the scales in their favor when it comes to determining how they might respond in a situation. There are no certainties when it comes to granting people power and responsibility and if we start restricting who may serve based upon past abuses by others, we will soon come to the point where no one is qualified to serve.
B.A. Paczki August 31, 2012 at 06:16 PM
The Mayor has more than once told the public that he has had a problem controling his own liquor. Hooray for Kevin. When will he step aside as liquor comissioner because by his own admission he cant handle his own liquor but can and will impart judgement on someone else?
Colin C. August 31, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Terry, I think that we are getting just a bit too philosophical here. The practical matter is simply this: should a person who holds a license that is awarded, controlled, and can be rescinded by a government body sit as a voting member of that body? All else aside, I think that allowing this simply is just asking for problems that neither the license holder nor the Council want to have to deal with. Things seem to work pretty well as they are. Why take the chance?
Terry Flanagan August 31, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Colin, It boils down to this. Whatever problems exist, real or imagined, and there are differences of opinion here, who do you think should decide the issue? Do we follow the state law in this case and allow the voters the choice of whom to represent them or do we decide to protect the voters from themselves?
Terry Flanagan August 31, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Seriously, B.A. Whatever problems the mayor may have had in the past have nothing to do with this issue. He's recognized and confronted that problem and deserves credit for doing so. There's no cause to try and use this against him.
Colin C. August 31, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Terry, Personally I would prefer to see things remain as they are. I think that, in the long run, that would be wisest. However, if enough people feel otherwise I think that the issue should be put to a referendum. That way the people of Geneva can decide on the basis of the policy itself, without the potential problem of a person who holds a liquor license running for office and thereby confusing the issue with the candidate.
Terry Flanagan September 01, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Colin, Why go through the extra expense and effort of a referendum when an election lets the voters most affected make the decision?
Colin C. September 01, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Because the popularity, or lack thereof, of the candidate clouds the issue of whether the ordinance itself should be changed.
Terry Flanagan September 01, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Of course it does.
Paul Bryant September 01, 2012 at 01:04 PM
It's clear as the nose on his face. The mayor sees Mr. Olesen as a threat, someone not easily swayed. While young, inexperienced Mr. Ploppert is seen more as someone that can be molded to the mayors whims.
Jennifer Anderson October 02, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Now let us sign the petition to encourage the official vote on the matter. Then let the people decide with their vote who is best qualified to be First Ward Alderman. http://www.change.org/petitions/geneva-city-council-amend-the-geneva-liquor-license-ordinance#

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