Downtown needs consistency in the current liquor fight. (WJBC file photo)
By Mike Matejka
As we finish one set of elections and prepare for municipal elections in April, one prime issue for Bloomington is downtown and bars.
It’s interesting that City Manager David Hales is the new “bar czar.” Hopefully he can help bring some consistency to the late night downtown scene.
If there’s one word I’d offer to Bloomington, it would be consistency. The Liquor Commission and City Council seem to go in two different directions. Bar owners and downtown residents don’t get along. Bloomington needs a consistent and firm policy that everyone understands.
The analogy I use is Normal and traffic enforcement. Any local driver usually takes their foot off the gas and slows down when they pass that “welcome to Normal” sign. Why? Because Normal consistently enforces traffic laws and it has wormed its way into our brains to slow down when driving in Normal.
Bloomington needs consistent policies downtown. If a bar owner has multiple ordinance violations, that bar owner needs to feel the full weight of the law. If the violations pass ten or fifteen, the license should be history. That will send a clear and consistent message to other liquor license holders.
Just like Normal with speeders, perhaps Bloomington needs to pay the overtime and on a regular basis, have a strong police presence downtown at closing time on weekend nights. That would hopefully decrease the vandalism, public urination and other rowdy acts that anger downtown residents and non-liquor businesses. Again, consistency is the key. License holders who are behaving responsible will not only be upheld, but the patrons would also quickly learn there are unacceptable behaviors that will not be tolerated.
An active and lively downtown is an asset to the community, a Saturday night outlet for music, dancing and making friends. The downtown bars are tax revenue sources and provide a great outlet for post-concert or hockey game activities. At the same time, downtown residents deserve respect too. Hopefully more consistent enforcement downtown can become a key ingredient.
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Bloomington with his wife and daughter and their two dogs. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society.
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