The Columbus City Attorney’s Office and city law enforcement have begun their annual process for objecting to the renewal of liquor permits for problem businesses.
Residents of Columbus who are concerned that a liquor establishment in their neighborhood is breaking the law or causing major problems in the community can help the city work to get their liquor permit revoked.
The City Council Public Safety Committee held a meeting Aug. 21 at City Hall to explain how the city works to enforce liquor laws and object to liquor permit renewals for problem businesses.
"Having a permit is a privilege, and not a right," said Detective Alan Brown with the Columbus Division of Police.
"The issue is how we as a city, and those in the audience tonight, can go about making sure that liquor permit holders in our community are being good and responsible neighbors," Councilman Andrew Ginther said. "We are not here to discuss how to shut down businesses, but to talk about what we can do to shut down bad businesses – those who break the law, who create a dangerous environment for patrons, who work against neighborhood interests and the general good of the community."
Each year, the Public Safety Committee and the City Attorney’s Office send out a letter to community groups requesting information about problem businesses.
Anyone, however, can give the attorney’s office information, even if they didn’t get a letter, according to Assistant City Attorney Natalia Harris.
Harris said after people inform them about problem businesses, the businesses are investigated and the city attorney makes a recommendation to the city council. Council can’t actually deny a permit to a business; that decision is up to the Ohio Division of Liquor Control. But the council can object to the renewal of a permit and present evidence for their case.
Cathy Collins-Taylor of the Ohio Department of Public Safety said the investigation process is a partnership.
"We certainly can go into any jurisdiction on our own, but we prefer to do it as a partnership with the locals," she said.
The city has other options beyond merely objecting to liquor permit renewal.
Collins-Taylor said if they find criminal activity, they can file charges. If a neighborhood is dealing with many different problem establishments, there is also the option to vote a precinct dry, she said.
Assistant City Attorney Michelle Cox said the city can file lawsuits against businesses. If the court finds that they are a nuisance they can’t get a liquor permit for one year, and can even be shut down permanently.
Cox listed various businesses that had been declared a nuisance, including the Shark Bar and Grill on the north side and Downtown Dolls in Franklinton.
Although the process of investigation and objection to the renewal of a liquor permit can be complicated for the city, Councilman Ginther said it’s simple for people to get involved by calling, mailing, or e-mailing information.
The City Attorney’s Office and the Division of Police can take care of the rest, he said.
Ginther said if people have problems with a business that don’t rise to the level of serious liquor violations or community safety, like noise complaints and parking issues, they can still get in touch with the City Attorney’s Office so they can work on the problem.
The deadline for coming forward with information is Sept. 1, but the process takes place every year.
Complaints can be made by calling the Office of Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer, at 645-7385, or e-mailing RCPfieffer@columbus.gov.