An alcohol ordinance amendment being considered by the Rome City Commission would give the board the authority to levy a monetary penalty against the licensee for a violation.
The idea was approved by the city’s Alcohol Control Commission last month, and the City Commission has already had a first reading of the amendment. There will be a public hearing and final vote on the proposed change at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting.
“I think any time you can produce a good deterrent and make people think twice before selling to a minor, you’ve gone a long way,” said ACC member and City Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter.
A fine of up to $2,000 would be available for the ACC to recommend as punishment — either by itself or in addition to any of the existing penalties — following a hearing with the licensee.
The City Commission would then have to approve the penalty.
Currently, the city can impose penalties for violating alcohol ordinances by taking no action, issuing a letter of warning, suspending an alcohol license, or revoking an alcohol licenses. There is no provision for an automatic penalty.
“The citizen members of the ACC, especially, thought it was necessary to have a face-to-face meeting with anyone accused of these types of violations,” Wachsteter said.
“We want to know the circumstances, and use the information presented to determine what type of penalty should be imposed.”
The proposed change is patterned after a similar ordinance in the city of Dalton, according to Wachsteter.
He said Dalton allows an automatic fine to be imposed against establishments if the owner or licensee admits guilt on a first violation and does not want to contest it.
“They just go to city hall and pay the fine,” Wachsteter said. “The ACC felt like they didn’t want to have any sort of ‘drive-thru service’ on the offense of selling to a minor. They wanted to hear every case.”
Bob Blumberg, owner of Johnny’s New York Style Pizza at 233 Broad St., is concerned that the city is not placing enough responsibility on the servers.
“Unless the penalty goes to the server, they are not going to get people to check IDs more,” Blumberg said. “I think if that is what they want to do it would be better.”
Currently, people who serve or sell alcohol inside the city must obtain an alcohol sales permit through the city.
Servers or clerks found to have violated an alcohol ordinance are subject to a fine levied in municipal court and criminal charges.
Blumberg believes if the city wants to make a statement to servers in the city’s restaurants and bars, officials should impose more penalties on them and not just the owners.
“They are missing the whole point if they don’t tackle the individual that is breaking the law,” Blumberg said.
Wachsteter said the amendment would pertain to restaurants, bars and package stores — and focus on the actual people who sell alcohol to minors could be discussed in the future.
Blumberg said he has gone to the fullest extent to train his employees who serve alcohol, even holding training involving local police, but he knows there is still the possibility someone won’t check an ID and end up serving a minor.