Councilman Patrick McDaniel is the City of Decatur’s Liquor Commissioner and, if you have a business that sells liquor you realize, or should realize, that McDaniel has the power to make life difficult for you if you don’t comply with the requirements of holding a liquor license. Last week, McDaniel took action against four local businesses for disregarding COVID-19 restrictions that prohibit indoor dining. The restaurant and bar owners had been cited previously for not following the mandate. They were given the choice of stopping indoor dining and paying a $50 fine, or risk getting their liquor licenses suspended for 30 days.
Two of the businesses, Bourbon Barrel and the Draft continued serving customers indoors and had their liquor licenses suspended for 30 days. El Corral and Friendly’s Bar agreed to the offer to stop indoor seating and were given a $50 fine, but no suspension. Further violations could result in a very hefty fine and the business losing its liquor licenses permanently. Businesses that lose their liquor license lose a major source of income so it is important to obey the rules that permit them to keep their license. The average person doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the “liquor commission”, but many probably believe it refers to a board that passes out fines and suspensions based on evidence of violations of the city’s liquor code.
Actually, the “commission” consists of one person — the liquor commissioner, Councilman Pat McDaniel, and, for that reason it is a powerful position in this city’s government.
• BACK WHEN I served as mayor, attached to the position was that of liquor commissioner. A separate councilman, apart from the mayor, was appointed liquor commissioner when the next elected mayor following me, Mike McElroy, filled that position.
As we discussed during my “City Hall Insider” appearance on last Thursday’s Byers & Co., on WSOY, the mayor/liquor commissioner change was made because McElroy worked for a local distributing company and it was thought that any decision he might make as liquor commissioner could have been viewed as a conflict of interest. Former Macon County Sheriff Jerry Dawson, who served on council for eight years, was named the liquor commissioner and he served in that position until he retired from council. McDaniel was appointed liquor commissioner when Dawson left council and has served in that position since — along with being mayor pro-tem.
• FRANKLY, had I known at the time I was elected mayor, that another member of council could be appointed to serve as liquor commissioner — that’s exactly what I would have done. Although being both mayor and liquor commissioner give extra power to the office, it was one part of my public service as mayor that I didn’t enjoy. It was a sensitive area because the future of some local businesses was held in what decision I made regarding punishment for infractions in the liquor license code. It wasn’t like the city council where, as mayor, I needed three other votes to pass an item or program. The liquor commissioner only needs one vote — his own.
• ONE PROBLEM that I faced was that I’ve always been a “teetotaler” (younger people reading this can look up the meaning of that word) and a few of the owners who got fined or suspended got nasty and said I was trying to close down all of the bars and restaurants in town. No, just the ones in violation of the city code. Actually, I viewed all of the cases that came before me, based on the infractions that occurred such as a first time violation or if the business was a repeat offender. Many of the liquor hearings I held were in response to a business selling liquor to minors. The business owners and/or managers always appeared before me to explain what had happened and offer an explanation for the violation. Usually, it was an employee, not the owner, who had been caught selling liquor to a minor.
I was most impressed with the testimony of owners who explained the steps they had taken to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. I was far less impressed with those who complained because they got caught, not about what they were doing to correct the problem. Corporation counsel was always a part of the liquor hearings and I had several options to select from in deciding a proper resolution of the matter. I always tried to be fair in my decisions, based on the guidelines that are prescribed in giving options to the liquor commissioner as to what action would be appropriate. After years of serving in the dual roles of mayor and liquor commissioner, I never looked back with fondness on the power, or my role, as liquor commissioner.
• A FEW DAYS AGO I talked with present City Councilman Pat McDaniel and his role as liquor commissioner. Pat has attracted a lot of attention in recent days because of his decisions related to enforcing compliance with not only state mandates, but the city council’s decision that put new restrictions on local businesses that include those who hold a liquor license. His recent actions are mentioned at the beginning of this column and he was scheduled to hold a hearing Monday on another business. Pat, who served in the military during the Vietnam War quipped that he thought the pressure over the last year-and-a-half as councilman/liquor commissioner was more stressful than his military assignment.
Certainly, the stress of dealing with city issues, the liquor commissioner’s role and some health problems, have not made for an easy time for the 10-year veteran of the council. He also told me that the tighter restrictions on bars and restaurants will result in even more pressure on the liquor commissioner with more decisions ahead that will be difficult for some business owners. I can’t speak for Jerry Dawson and the experiences he had as liquor commissioner, but, as one who held that position for years, I believe now is an even more pressure-packed experience for the person holding the commissioner title than what I experienced in that role. Pat McDaniel is not running for re-election in April, so his dual roles as councilman and liquor commissioner will end next spring. That won’t be long.
Of course, with everything happening in response to COVID-19, those four or five months may seem like four or five years! I’ve known Pat for many years. He was a reporter for me and covered the council beat until he was elected to city council and then had to leave the position at the Tribune. He has poured a lot of his time and energy into being a city councilman and I believe he has, overall, enjoyed the experience. He deserves a big “thank you” for all he has done in service to this community.
• SO SORRY to learn of the passing of former Decatur Assistant City Manager and Interim City Manager John Smith. (John’s obituary is in the Macon County Deaths section, page, 21 of the print edition of the Tribune.)
I shot the above photo of John Smith on his first day on the job after being named interim city manager in May, 2008. When we were considering an interim city manager to replace City Manager Steve Garman, who had retired from the position, John, who was assistant city manager at the time, met with me in the mayor’s office and said he wanted to be considered for the position. I advised the members of the city council and, at our next meeting we interviewed John, then had him wait outside the room, while we discussed his appointment. We agreed to hire John as the interim city manager to serve until a new city manager was hired following a nationwide search process.
After the search process, the city council hired Ryan McGrady as the next city manager. Former City Manager Garman has since passed away and now, John. Also, two of the council members who served with me, Mike McElroy (who later was elected mayor) and Betsy Stockard have also passed away in the years since. It seems like only yesterday that we were together in council meetings discussing and voting on projects, and at other city events. Time has passed quickly. It seems like only a few days ago that I grabbed my camera and walked the short distance from my mayor’s office to the city manager’s office to shoot the above photo — but it has been over 12 years! Wow! A lot has happened in the City of Decatur since then.
• MONDAY evening the Decatur City Council unanimously approved the 2021 budget which goes into effect the first of the year. Trying to anticipate the income and expenses for the City of Decatur in 2021 is an extremely difficult task considering the present economic uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. However, the budget is a roadmap for the year beginning Jan. 1 and should never be viewed as 100% valid. Without a doubt there will have to be adjustments made as the city moves through the next year. Like any household budget, it does not represent 100% accuracy, especially considering what we are presently experiencing in our community and across the world.
• THE DECATUR Fire Department will be getting a new fire truck in the next few months after the council approved the purchase of a 107-foot Pierce Aerial Ladder Apparatus. The fire department needed another truck after an Aug. 9 crash of one of its trucks and it had to borrow a fire truck from the Bloomington Fire Department.
• THE CITY COUNCIL also voted to approve the negotiation and execution of an agreement for the creation of a health care clinic. The clinic is anticipated to serve city employees who are in the health care benefit plan. It will be an agreement with Paladina Health LLC.
• THE PEARL Harbor Remembrance Day gathering at the Beach House on Dec. 7th had to be cancelled this year because of COVID-19. The Veteran’s Assistance Commission of Macon County, Inc, had sent out a program of the event and then, a few days later, sent the announcement of its cancellation and apologized for any inconvenience it may have caused.
“Please check our Facebook page online for a video remembrance,” stated the announcement. The Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day gathering next to Lake Decatur is always a meaningful ceremony. I spoke at the event several years ago and also attended several and found it to be a very appropriate event for the area to remember those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
We had a few Macon County residents who were stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack and survived. I interviewed and wrote about them in my early years as editor of this newspaper. They had memories of what they experienced that day that remained clearly fixed in their minds decades later. Hopefully, the event will be held next year when the pandemic (hopefully) is behind us, which will mark the 80th anniversary of the “date that will live in infamy”.
• THANKS to Ann Irwin, director of Operation Enduring Support (OES) for sharing with me a copy of a letter the OES received from an Illinois Soldier.
The soldier from New Berlin, Illinois, wrote to OES: “I was the recipient of several items from the OES family while de-ployed forward to Kuwait. Some items were nice and brought a smile. Some items were essential! But to whomever sent the Christmas stocking, it truly touched my heart. I miss my boys and the excitement in their eyes surrounding Christmas. This holiday season is going to be extremely difficult for this young father, but to all of those in your community and at Grace United, I am deeply appreciative. Sending you back all the thoughts and prayers.”
As I wrote in this column last week. thanks to Ann and the volunteers at OES for all of the cheer and encouragement they have brought to our deployed members of the military over the years. Your efforts are so appreciated.
• PLEASE continue your efforts to keep yourself and others safe from contracting or spreading COVID-19. We are all in this together and what really hits home to me is the increase in the number of obituaries in this newspaper each week. Although many have not died from COVID-19, there are others who have, but the reason for their death is not usually mentioned in the obituary. I know many of the people listed, either through friendship, readership of the Trib or family connections and it is sad to see them pass away.
Every life counts regardless of age and we need to look out for each other.