Two Norton establishments received nominal punishments Thursday, the result of a town-wide compliance check sting in April by the .
The effort to identify bars, restaurants and liquor stores that might be selling alcohol to underage patrons involved an under-21 actor who was asked to purchase either a single drink at a bar or restaurant or a six-pack of beer at a liquor store on April 12. The sweep was not designed to trick anyone, Police Chief Brian Clark told selectmen – it was aired ahead of time in the newspapers and online on the department’s Facebook page.
The young actor was picked because he looked his age, Clark told the board.
Caught in the net were owners Timothy McCarthy of restaurant on Mansfield Avenue and Ramanbhati Patel of the on East Main Street. Both men were not personally involved in the sale of alcohol to an under-age customer, but were before the board to take the consequences of the action of an employee. In both cases, alcohol was sold to the police department’s young assistant without anyone asking for his identification.
McCarthy, who appeared without counsel, said he had no excuses for the mistake, and said he knew right away when he spotted the young man accepting change from the bartender that the operation was probably part of a police department check.
“It happened,” McCarthy said. “I’m strict and stern with people – it was obvious what had happened.” He said he had since created a 20-page handbook that sets out clear guidelines for all his employees on serving liquor. Employees are required to sign it, and the bartender in question has been put on notice that any further infractions will result in dismissal.
Patel also appeared, this time with Norton lawyer Dan Rich speaking for him. In this case too, the owner did not offer any rebuttal, only an admission that the employee, a clerk in the Quick Stop, did sell to the under age patron.
The board has not had to deal with an infraction in two years, and is operating under an old set of guidelines developed under pressure in 1997, when a series of incidents resulted in a policy that can administer a 30-day suspension of a liquor license even for a single mistake.
Robert Kimball, who was on the board when the policy was drafted, said its draconian punishments were a product of the times, and not what is called for with two first-time infractions by well-respected establishments with no record of problems.
Kimball also said a one-time sale of a beer or a six-pack to an under-age customer is not the same as pulling over a car full of clearly drunk people who might well kill someone in an accident.
“Thirty days for a first-time violation is way out of whack,” he said.
Chairman Tim Giblin agreed, saying, “That could put someone right out of business.” He added, however, that the board must illustrate that it means business regardless of the status of the establishment in question or the reputation of its owner.
Kimball said if such a discipline were handed out today, the Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission would probably “throw it right back at us.”
Selectmen chose instead to suspend the liquor license of both businesses for one day, Monday, Sept. 10. When board member Mary Steele said Monday was usually a slow day, Giblin and Town Manager Michael Yunits reminded her about the popularity of Monday night football games.
Selectmen will try to tackle the outdated liquor license policy at their next meeting – Steele suggested a few board members meet in the meantime with Clark and bring in a revised policy for the rest of the board to discuss. They will also check with surrounding towns, to see what kind of regulations they use for liquor license infractions.
The board’s next scheduled meeting is July 12.
- All the rain barrels the town bought have been spoken for and can be picked up at the highway department Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or on recycling day Saturday, July 14.
- The Water Bodies Committee is having a speaker on invasive plants on July 16 at 6 p.m.
- The Mass Gaming Commission emailed Yunits last night to announce a July 12 meeting at the Lakeville COA with representatives from the surrounding towns that could be impacted by the casino.