Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division today reversed Iowa City’s denial of a downtown bar’s liquor license claiming that the city failed to provide sufficient evidence that demonstated the Fieldhouse does not possess “good moral character.”
“Obviously, we’re pleased,” said Matthew Adam, attorney representing Fieldhouse owner Dave Carey.
Adam is calling the ABD’s decision a “win” for all bar owners downtown who believe the city’s new policy ”went a little too far.”
In February 2009, Iowa City adopted the city resolution that allows Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine to recommend the city council refuse a liquor license renewal to any establishment with underage patrons ticketed for possessing alcohol at a rate of greater than 1.0 per visit. These citations are commonly referred to as PAULAs – or possession of alcohol under the legal age.
“The city’s intention is to reduce underage drinking in bars,” said Mayor Matt Hayek. “That was our attempt. It’s been struck down.”
According to Iowa City Police Department records, 143 PAULA citations had been issued to patrons on Fieldhouse premises during 92 bar checks. This gave the Fieldhouse a PAULA citation rate of roughly 1.55.
“It doesn’t matter if they have a wrist band on,” said Sergeant Denise Brotherton of the Iowa City Police Department. “It doesn’t matter if they consumed it. The only issue that comes into play is ‘Was it in their position?’ So that’s what the officers are working on.”
Iowa City council voted about a year ago to deny the renewal application filed by Fieldhouse owner David Carey of Marion because their PAULA rate exceeded the new policy’s limits.
ABD Administrator Stephen Larson, who issued the state agency’s opinion Tuesday morning, said the City’s reliance on a local resolution that allows the denial of a bar’s renewal application “based solely on the PAULA citation statistics…is inconsistent” with Iowa Code and ABD’s rules defining “good moral character.”
“It wasn’t so much proving those PAULAs didn’t take place” said Eric Goers, assistant city attorney for Iowa City. “We didn’t prove that the bar was aware in each individual case that someone was underage and drinking. Again, that was neever our intent.”
Larson also wrote that the City failed to provide evidence to demonstrate that the Fieldhouse employees knew underage possession and consumption of alcohol were occuring at the field house and that the employees failed to exercise reasonable care to ascertain a patron consuming alcoholic beverages was of legal age.
The ABD’s decision is final unless Iowa City files a petition for judicial review with the Iowa District Court within 30 days.
“I think we’re going to talk about what to do with it,” said Mayor Matt Hayek. “Whether to change it, whether to dump it, whether to do something else. I think everything is on the table.”
Everything including getting rid of the policy all together. Mayor Hayek believes this ruling underscores the need for a 21-only after 10 pm ordinance, which may eliminate the need for the policy ABD questioned today.
“If 21 sticks in November, the need for this policy could be called into question.”
Iowa City Police Department reports PAULA citations issued in June after the minimum bar entry age went into effect are down 90 percent compared to those issued June 2009.