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Vergennes bar issued liquor license after infractions

VERGENNES — Despite three March liquor violations that resulted in $1,530 in fines for the City Limits Nightclub owner and a memo from Police Chief George Merkel stating his department has spoken to the bar owner “about overserving patrons,” the Vergennes City Council last week issued the bar its annual First Class Liquor and Live Entertainment Licenses.
The city council routinely grants such licenses and has not withheld or suspended one in at least 25 years.
Merkel’s memo described the incidents that led to the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) fines, including a drunk-driving citation and a pedestrian that Merkel alleged was dangerously impaired.
After receiving the memo, the council before granting the licenses took the rare step of asking City Limits owner Brett Ward to come to a council meeting and discuss the issues. He did so on April 24. Council members had twice deferred issuing the license to give Ward a chance to attend a meeting.
Mayor Renny Perry said on Thursday the DLC fines should make expectations clear to Ward, as should the police warnings about what Merkel called “known overserving,” and the council’s request to speak to him.
“I don’t recall us ever talking to anyone about a license,” Perry said. “This is certainly an exception to the norm, so I would hope he would would take that to heart about being careful.”  
At the same time, the mayor said, if the council chose to suspend City Limits’ license it would have to follow a time-consuming and potentially expensive process that would duplicate what the DLC had already done in fining Ward.
“They had already taken the action. They’re the primary agency for dealing with that, and they had already dealt with it. And it just didn’t seem like it would be worth it for the city to go through the time, effort and possible legal expense in moving forward with it when it’s already been taken care of,” Perry said.
Ward, who has owned City Limits since 1999, declined to comment when reached later on Thursday.
DLC Inspector Jay Clark also attended the Tuesday council meeting. Perry said Clark made no recommendation, but shared with the council City Limits’ entire DLC enforcement history. It includes a 21-day suspension in 2003 for four violations, a seven-day suspension in 2013 for an “hours of sale” violation, and one warning for selling tobacco to a minor.
Merkel outlined the three March violations in an April 6 memo. According to Merkel, Clark told him that while Clark was at City Limits giving Ward the first two notices of violations, Clark “witnessed a violation in the immediate presence of Ward, subsequently resulting in issuance of another notice of violation.”
The first violation stemmed from a March 11 incident. Vergennes police cited a driver for driving under the influence of alcohol, a driver they alleged had been drinking at City Limits. Police alleged the suspect’s blood-alcohol content tested at 0.289 percent, about 3.5 times the legal driving limit of 0.08.
The third violation stems from an incident on March 15, when city police helped a man Merkel described as having “difficulty walking” after allegedly drinking at City Limits. Police said his BAC tested at 0.256 percent.

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