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Summit sues city

BY NICOLE KARLIS | NOVEMBER 18, 2009 7:21 AM

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Just before the Iowa City City Council denied a downtown bar’s liquor-license renewal on Tuesday, its owner filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming an ordinance is unconstitutional.

The Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., became the third bar denied according to a new guideline that mandates police recommend that councilors refuse licenses to bars with a high number of underage drinking tickets.

Councilors did not hesitate to uphold police Chief Sam Hargadine’s recommendation for denial, voting 6-0 against the bar.

Mayor Regenia Bailey made her message clear — bars with high PAULA-per-police visit rates need to be monitoring underage patrons.

“Please talk to your colleagues and find ways to address it,” she said. “Apparently, some people are finding methods.”

Mike Porter, who owns three downtown bars including the Summit, filed a lawsuit against the city around 4 p.m. Tuesday, calling the city’s new guidelines for liquor-license denials unconstitutional and unlawful.

Hours later, standing in front of the City Council, Porter defended himself as a license holder.

“I’ve done nothing illegal,” he said. “I really want you to consider that I haven’t broken a law.”

Porter employs more than 100 employees in Iowa City and runs businesses that bring in millions of dollars in taxes to the city, he said. According to the lawsuit, no Summit employee was charged with serving to a minor during the 12-months considered in the PAULA ratio.

The Summit clocked in with a final PAULA-per-visit ratio of 1.925.



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Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay presented the council with new statistics after further reviewing the numbers. He said the best ratio Summit could have — accounting for any errors in tabulation — would be roughly 1.53.

“When it comes to the end, it’s the PAULA rate, no matter how you slice it,” Kelsay said.

Before the council could hold a vote on the license, Porter’s attorney, Steven J. Havencamp, presented the lawsuit to City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes.

“I think it’s important for you to be aware that we’ve sued,” Havencamp said. “If the council denies the liquor-license tonight, the Summit will appeal like Et Cetera and 3rd Base.”

Et Cetera, 118 S. Dubuque St., and 3rd Base Sports Bar, 111 E. College St., were the first to face the City Council since the new guidelines to renew liquor licenses went into effect July 1. The new policy directs Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine to recommend license denials to the City Council if bars have a ratio of more than one PAULA per police visit. Both bars have appealed to the state Alcoholic Beverages Division.

The lawsuit states the city’s actions will significantly hurt the Summit’s business, as it did with Et Cetera and 3rd Base. The latter lost nearly 80 percent of gross receipts in the two months immediately following the city’s disapproval of its liquor-license, the lawsuit claims.

Havencamp told councilors the lawsuit claims the resolution is unconstitutional, applied unevenly, and runs “directly contrary to Iowa law.”

One factor Iowa Code mandates as a requirement for holding a liquor-license is maintaining “good moral character.”

UI political-science associate professor Tim Hagle, who teaches an undergraduate course in constitutional law, noted having a liquor-license is a privilege for a business, not a right.

He noted a high PAULA ratio could be perceived as abusing that privilege.

“They may not have a very strong case,” he said.

UI law Professor Randall Bezanson said one claim in the lawsuit — that police target some bars more than others — is similar to a speed trap. Police are going to frequent where they know there is illegal activity and possible arrests, he said.

At the meeting Councilor Mike Wright said certain Iowa City businesses, including the Summit, have failed to comply with state law.

“It’s contributed to a culture the community does not appreciate,” he said.

Councilors acknowledges that the state’s decision on Et Cetera and 3rd Base could find the resolution vague or unconstitutional.

“We will find out at some point if what we enacted holds up,” said Councilor Matt Hayek. “But that is a separate consideration, and we aren’t equipped to talk about tonight.”


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