The Chattanooga Beer Board is attempting to find some consistency in the penalties it issues for violations of the city’s beer code, while maintaining the ability to handle each case individually.
At the May 15 meeting of the beer board, the founder of 1N3, Tiki Finlayson told the board her son had been killed by a drunk driver. The organization’s name is derived from the fact that one in every three people is impacted by a drunk driver. The group strives to change that statistic.
Her appearance at the board meeting has had an effect of the punishments issued by the board.
By the June 5 beer board meeting, board member Christopher Keene had researched consequences of beer code violations that other municipalities in Tennessee give for first offenses and found that many issue 30-day suspensions. The Chattanooga beer board for the most part has issued three-day suspensions for the same offense.
At both the May15 and June 5 meetings, the beer board was presented with six violations found during compliance checks made by the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Coalition. Mr. Keene stated that with the three-day penalties, “no one was listening.” On the 15th, first offenses received seven-day beer permit suspensions, second offenses got 14 days and a 30-d-ay suspension was given for a third offense.
At the meeting held Thursday, this change appeared to be having the desired effect. Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins said that 15 compliance checks had been made the night of June 12 and just two businesses had sold beer to a minor.
On Thursday, the owner of Top of the Line Tobacco Mart, 424 E. M.L. King Blvd., appeared at the beer board on a first-time offense for selling beer to a minor despite asking to see an ID. The owner admitted that he and the clerk at the time made a mistake and said both were registered to get TIPS training. Board member Andre’ Harriman made a motion to revoke the license for 30 days saying that the function of the board is to protect the public and not the business, and they need to know that “we mean business.” Though the majority of the board expressed the need to send a message, they also felt that going from a penalty of seven to 30 days was excessive, and voted to suspend the license for seven days beginning June 26.
All the board members considered the violation made by Shiv Food Mart, 631 Signal Mountain Road, as a “flagrant violation.” Two underage buyers were sent into the store separately, about 20 seconds apart. The sale of beer was made to both despite the clerk looking at the driver’s license of each. One license was outlined with a red box and the other was formatted vertically, both methods to signal that the owner is under the age of 21. Mr. Keene questioned what would have happened if 10 underage buyers had come into the store. The vote was unanimous to suspend this license for 30 days beginning June 26.
On March 25, Big K-Mart, 909 Dodson Ave., sold a beer to an underage, undercover buyer without checking an ID or even asking for an age. The buyer said that the clerk had not asked for ID from any of the customers in line ahead of him. This is the second time this violation has been on the agenda and no representation was sent to the beer board meeting, nor was there a request to pass the case to the next one. The board proceeded with the hearing and decided to revoke the beer license immediately. The police will deliver a letter from the city attorney’s office to the business in the way of notification.
Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman suggested that the board think about various offenses in order to set up some structure for penalties. He said that he favored flexibility to deal with each on a case by case basis, but would like to establish ranges of time for the different violations. He said that a meeting would be set up on a Thursday that the board does not meet, and it would need to be advertised as a public meeting. He said that most of the cases that have gone to trial had been decided on the issues of consistency of the punishments.
After observing the entire beer board meeting, Tiki Finlayson asked to speak to the board. She told them that she was pleased with what she had observed at this meeting. She thanked them for taking a harder stance on beer sales to minors and for drinking and driving than she saw last month. Mr. Keene responded that “it helps for someone to come and tell us the real story.”