Quick Commentary on the Liquor Violation Hearings

If you haven’t been following this story, links are provided below. In a nutshell, two bars that served underage drinkers back in January were fined last week, while a third requested and got its hearing rescheduled. Charges were dropped against two other bars whose licensee had been accused of advertising free beer as a St. Patrick’s Day promotion.

Advertising any sort of “happy hour”-type drink special in DeKalb constitutes a violation of the liquor code. Hosting an open bar for a private party does not.

Frankly, I don’t get it. The so-called “private” parties in question were organized by an agent of the licensee, which posted the event to its subscribers as it does other promos, and generally boasts afterward of participating businesses’ increased traffic and ROI. I’m pretty sure the restaurant that offers off-menu skillet specials and the store that uses the same marketing program for distribution of “mobile coupons” for groceries think of it as advertising.

DeKalb will have to revisit this issue sometime. Imagine when the bar owners’ mobile marketing agents have hundreds or thousands of subscribers instead of just 60. Imagine a maximized presence on social networking sites. You wanna put these “private” parties on the same footing as wedding receptions then?

The March 17 Liquor Charges
Hearings on Liquor Code Violations Set
Chronicle: 2 DeKalb Bars Fined for Serving Alcohol to Minors

3 thoughts on “Quick Commentary on the Liquor Violation Hearings”

  1. A “concerned citizen” calls the mayor on his cellphone and accuses a local business of illegally advertising and hosting an open bar. The mayor and city attorney meet, orders the police chief to send an undercover officer to attempt to get a “free” beer, then uses needed tax dollars to hire a court reporter and a lawyer, have the officer come testify and have another officer there I suppose for security — plus himself (the mayor) as judge and Norma Guess as prosecutor.

    Witmer has to bring his wife during business hours. His father is named so he has to come from Chicago and bring his wife. Two other Witmer employees; 1 each from Upper Deck and O’Leary’s are paid to be present for the hearing. Witmer has to hire an attorney to represent him.

    Brian Ohlinger and his partner with eMobileIT have to come from work since they hosted the private party.

    I have to go because I do O’Learys and Upper Deck and several other establishment’s websites that have private parties.

    Witmer’s lawyer is reportedly told just before the hearing that if his client wanted to avoid losing his license he could pay a $1,500 fine with a guilty plea.

    The undercover officer testifies that he entered O’Leary’s just before 7, asked where the party with free beer was and was told by Mel Witmer that it was upstairs at eMobileIT’s private party.

    Officer went upstairs and asked if this was the free beer party and was told the party was just about to end but did end up getting a beer. He testified that he then went over to Upper Deck and was told the party there was cancelled and he did not get a free beer.

    eMobileIT produced a copy of the contract and invoice for the private party. Total bill including 20-some drafts of green beer and appetizers was under $70.

    Officer testifies that fewer than 20 people were in attendance. Ohlinger testifies that he sent 40-60 text mail invites out and did so as a customer appreciation St Pat’s party. He testifies that he limited the number of invites as a controlled response-test.

    The charge or accusation that eMobileIT was an agent for O’Leary’s, Upper Deck or the restaurant group is false. Statements to the effect that O’Leary’s, Upper Deck and/or the restaurant group and eMobileIT conspired to break the law is irresponsible and libelous.

    eMobileIT, as is any individual, business or organization, is allowed by state law and local ordinance to have a private party. Local licensed establishments are allowed by state law and local ordinance to provide room, food and beverage for those private parties:

    Chapter 38.30 b) No retail licensee or employee or agent of such licensee shall: – 2. Sell, offer to sell or serve to any person an unlimited number of drinks of alcoholic liquor during any set period of time for a fixed price, except at private functions not open to the general public.

    Who was not at the hearing? The “concerned citizen” who made the accusations. The one who posts comments trashing others while using more sock puppet names than Carter has pills. The one who brags about how much influence he has with the mayor and how much money he can cost others.

    His bragging is not without merit. I can attest to that.

  2. At least one of these “private parties” of emobileit’s ended up on the website of one of these businesses, and I can produce it if I need to.

    More important to the debate about what constitutes advertising, though, are the messages shared on social networking sites.

    emobileit’s Facebook page:

    Don’t leave home without it! These days it is nearly impossible to reach consumers, so we’ve developed a way to reach them wherever they might be. And we do it all on an item that is basically attached to the hip, the mobile phone!

    Each of these “private parties” was announced on the FB page, which right now has 443 fans or followers or whatever you call them. The “private parties” are all announced there just as the coupons and the daily drink specials and the Sunday buffets, and all anyone had to do when they saw these messages on their home pages were to text a 5-digit number to become a VIP and therefore a “guest” at the “private parties.”

    I am sincerely sorry that you think I am guilty of libel and irresponsibility, but in my book the setup equals “agent” and “advertising” and I am ready to argue this wherever.

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