The Ottumwa Courier

March 12, 2013

Banning minors from after-hours clubs

City Council bounces back and forth with Elbow Room owner about revising after-hours ordinance

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — A city ordinance could soon be changed to ban minors from after-hours businesses 24/7.

A minor found at the Elbow Room, as well as several underage drinking charges and citations, led the discussion of changing the ordinance regarding after-hours businesses at the City Council's work session Monday night.

Several people between the ages of 18 and 21 have been charged with persons under the legal age at the Elbow Room, an after-hours establishment that operates from 2-6 a.m. after bars close around town.

Last month, a minor was picked up at 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight at the Elbow Room. While the police officer was going to cite the establishment’s doorman with minor on premises, since the incident did not occur during the hours specified in the ordinance, he was not cited.

“There was no question that the young lady that was picked up lied to our police officer and to the manager [of the Elbow Room],” said City Attorney Joni Keith. “I feel this is a loophole in the law that needs to close. ...I don’t think many of us in this room want minors to be present at this facility, I think, at least after 10 p.m. And this is not the only minor that has been present on the premises.”

Currently, the ordinance states that people over the age of 18 are allowed inside an after-hours business. Those 21 and over may bring in their own alcohol, but no alcohol is allowed to be sold on the premises.

“The part that’s probably the most disturbing is when I’m listening to what [Keith is] saying, she’s rolling words out making it sound like we didn’t do our jobs, and we did,” said Elbow Room owner Steve Palen. “Even though [the minor] obviously lied to the officer, they continued to give us a ticket for allowing a minor on the premises. If you have a young lady lie to an officer, chances are very good she lied to us as well.”

Palen said he agrees that only those older than 18 should be allowed in the building, but he disagreed with the fact that he could have been cited had the “loophole” not existed.

“Did we do our jobs? Yes,” Palen said. “What are you going to do to make sure the officers work with us? Immediately that night we were shut down, everyone was checked and IDed. We weren’t breaking the law across the board.

“I don’t care if you take it to 10 [p.m.], but what’s going to be our safety on this end every time some young woman lies? I can’t run around paying off $160 tickets because some young lady decides to lie.”

Councilman Mitch Niner said no matter the restricted hours put in place by an ordinance, underage people are going to lie to get into bars and after-hours businesses. Councilman Brian Morgan agreed with Palen that the revised ordinance should say that minors are not allowed in an after-hours business at any time.

“It’s a real simple issue as far as I’m concerned,” said interim police chief Tom McAndrew. “It would be simpler if it was 24 hours.”

Palen wondered, though, that if the ordinance were changed to not allow minors at after-hours business 24/7 if establishments such as the Armory would be affected, since they often hold wedding receptions and other events — with alcohol — that can last until after 2 a.m.

“We have never had a ticket for serving a minor for over 20 years, or for tobacco,” Palen said. “But we still got a ticket over a common-sense issue. We should’ve never gotten it.”

Councilman Bob Meyers said he didn’t understand why Palen “thinks [he’s] any different than any other business owner” who is duped by a fake ID.

“It’s not linked just to him,” Keith said. “If any bars sell alcohol to a minor and they get lied to, they get ticketed as well.”

Palen said the difference with the minor on premises citation he would have been issued is that his bouncer checked the girl’s ID, “she falsified it in some way, shape or form”and she then lied to the police officer.

“There needs to be more diligence done on the part of the business owner, because we don’t want these minors on these premises,” Keith said.

Bars and after-hours businesses must do compliance training on alcohol and tobacco, Keith said.

“State law puts the burden and responsibility on the business owner to make sure juveniles are not buying tobacco and people under 21 are not buying alcohol,” Keith said.

If an individual between 18 and 21 is found intoxicated in an after-hours business (even if the business is not selling alcohol), they can be charged with a PULA. But if an individual is under 18 (a minor) and intoxicated at the business, not only can they be charged with a PULA but the establishment can be hit with a “minor on premises” citation.

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NOTE: The original version of this story indicated the manager of the Elbow Room was charged in connection with a minor found in the establishment. It was the doorman.