Abbotsford’s city council made the wrong decision Monday night when it denied a license to sell beer for a man with nothing more than a noncriminal forfeiture on his record. Under Wisconsin law, possession of drug paraphernalia is no more serious than a traffic ticket, yet apparently some of Abbotsford’s elected officials think it’s tantamount to narcotics trafficking.
Even though the local police chief said he had no objections to the city issuing the license, half of the council members present at Monday’s meeting decided they had a better idea of what’s best for public safety. The result was an unfortunate overreach that may prevent someone with a nearly five-year-old minor offense from getting a job.
We understand that council members who voted against issuing an operator’s license to the 22-yearold man genuinely felt like they were doing the right thing. Ald. Roger Weideman said he’s heard concerns from some of his constituents who don’t want to see the wrong people having the ability to sell alcohol in Abbotsford. Mayor Lori Voss, who broke a 3-3 deadlock in favor of denying the license, said she’d be more comfortable saying yes if a little more time had passed since the offense.
Ald. Frankie Soto went further, basically declaring that he would never vote in favor of an alcohol license for anyone who had a drug or alcohol offense on their record. His main concern seemed to be that local youth would be more frequently exposed to drugs if the city gave alcohol licenses to people with any blemish on their record.
In this particular case, we find these concerns to be overblown and unfounded. A simple possession of paraphernalia charge from nearly five years ago — when the applicant was 17, by the way — does not warrant the denial of a license to sell beer at a gas station.
Council members need to realize that every time they withhold a license like this, they are intervening in a private company’s ability to do business. As was pointed out at Monday’s meeting, denying this man a license to sell alcohol could likely cost him a job opportunity, or it would force the gas station to have an extra person working with him just so customers could buy beer.
This comes at a time when the unemployment rate has been at a low point for quite some time, making it very difficult for local businesses to find new employees. Whether it’s in customer service, farming or manufacturing, employers are struggling to fill shifts so they can continue meeting the demands of their customers. City government should be doing what it can to help businesses find employees, not standing in the way with fearbased decision-making.
At that same time, we wholeheartedly agree with Ald. Mason Rachu, who made the motion to grant the alcohol license. “I want the guy to have a job,” Rachu said. That’s the right kind of attitude to have if elected officials want to support local citizens looking for gainful employment. Everyone makes mistakes in life, and we all deserve more than one chance to be productive members of society.
Still, we agree with the argument that not everyone who applies for a license to sell or serve alcohol should be granted one. In September of last year, the council rightfully denied a license to someone with a felony drunk driving offense on his record. That conviction was from 2012, but it was also the fourth within a five-year period. Combined with other, more recent offenses on the applicant’s record, it raised legitimate concerns about whether he could be trusted to lawfully serve alcohol at a local bar.
Going forward, we believe the council should trust the judgement of the local police chief, who has the knowledge and experience to make the right call in these situations. Otherwise, fear and paranoia can easily get in the way of good decision- making.
The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien