PAULA-ratio decision likely in new alcohol czar’s hands

BY JOSEPH BELK | MARCH 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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A battle between the Iowa City City Council and some downtown bars over high PAULA-per-police visit ratios will likely be settled by a newly appointed state official.

Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Lynn Walding will be replaced by Stephen Larson, pending a vote by the state Senate, on May 1.

A state administrative law judge sided with downtown bars Et Cetera, 118 S. Dubuque St., and 3rd Base, 111 E. College St., after the two establishments were denied liquor-license renewals by the City Council. Et Cetera has since closed; the city is appealing the 3rd Base decision to Walding’s desk.

But because a decision could take longer than 60 days, Walding said, he likely won’t reach a conclusion by the end of his term. City officials must file their final briefs by March 5, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes said.

Larson, a deputy treasurer in the state’s Office of the Treasurer, said he hasn’t determined how he will handle liquor-license appeals as the new administrator.

A majority of city councilors were hesitant to speculate how the new appointment could affect the PAULA-ratio policy on Monday.

Local bar owner Mike Porter has also appealed the City Council’s license denial for the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., to an administrative law judge. In addition, Porter has filed a lawsuit against the city.

The first matter may end in Larson’s lap.

The 56-year old began working as an auditor in the state Treasurer’s Office in 1984 and has served as a deputy treasurer since 2004.

He said Monday that he’s not sure what changes he will make to the agency at his new post if confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

Councilor Regenia Bailey, who served as Iowa City’s mayor, said she has worked with Larson before and noted his experience and understanding of the law will be an asset.

Bailey sits on the state’s Vision Iowa board. According to minutes from the board’s meetings, Larson has attended at least one meeting.

“I’m very confident about the governor’s appointment and feel that he will do a good job at the position,” Bailey said.

Others offered more specific suggestions for Larson.

Councilor Connie Champion said municipalities such as Iowa City should have more control over liquor licenses instead of leaving decisions to the state.

Leah Cohen, the owner of Bo-James and outgoing president of the Downtown Association, said more state revenue should go towards alcohol education.

During his 10-year stint with the division, Walding has made a number decisions that affected Iowa City, including last week’s move to restrict the sale of Everclear to 750-milliliter bottles after a public forum in Iowa City.

Before taking the position, he worked as an assistant attorney general for the Iowa Department of Justice. He also served previously as president of the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association and president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators.

Champion said she thinks Walding has done a good job as administrator, and she was surprised to hear he’s being relieved. She feels it was a political move, she said.

But Walding sees being replaced as an opportunity, noting he intends to work in the private sector.

“I’m really focused on the future,” he said.

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