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    August 21, 2020

    What’s going on with bars? Here’s what the agencies say

    We spoke with the board’s Director of Law Enforcement

    With all of the confusion behind whether private bars are being forced to close or apply for new liquor licenses, we reached out to the local agencies at the heart of the debate to hear what has — or hasn’t — changed. Friday morning, we spoke with several business owners who were left confused as to whether they had to close, apply for new liquor licenses, or stop serving alcohol in favor of wine and beer. According to Kevin Stone, Director of Law Enforcement for the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, the issue stems from ALE enforcing an amendment to the Governor’s phase two orders that his agency hadn’t yet received. ALE, however, is pointing fingers to local ABC officers, stating there were no changes to the order. CMPD’s ABC Unit confirmed in a statement to Agenda reporter Katie Peralta that they have been advised from the ABC Commission that private bars are not allowed to serve alcohol, and passed that information onto establishments.

    We spoke to city council member Larken Egleston, who is working with authorities to try and figure out what the law actually is and what will be enforced. He says he is in favor of severe consequences for those who blatantly violate health risks, but has visited establishments like Dot Dot Dot and VBGB — two establishments told they cannot operate — and says they were extremely safe, and shouldn’t be punished because of the liquor license they hold.

    See what each agency had to say below.

    Here is the statement from an ALE representative:

    “There have been no changes to Executive Order 141, Section 8 (A & B), which affect private bars during Phase 2. ALE focuses on a permittee’s business model and daily operation to determine if they are operating more as a restaurant or as a private bar. Special agents maintain an open dialogue with the ABC Commission regarding private bars as each business is unique. Throughout Phase 1 and Phase 2, ALE has strived to provide guidance and education to businesses which are private bars, and to obtain voluntary compliance from them. However, some businesses continue to operate solely as private bars against the Governor’s Executive Orders. Enforcement action taken by ALE special agents with regards to non-compliant businesses, whether criminal or administrative, is due to the establishment not complying after training was provided on Executive Order 141 and documented warnings to adhere to the Executive Order.

    Across the state, ALE has remained consistent in the enforcement of the Governor’s Executive Orders. There have been several instances recently where local ABC officers were mistaken as ALE special agents and took enforcement action on a business which did not align with ALE’s practices, therefore creating confusion. Local ABC officers are separate law enforcement entities from ALE. Any further inquiries regarding a local ABC officer’s actions should be directed to their department.”

    The following statement was provided to Katie Peralta of Charlotte Agenda from CMPD’s ABC Unit:

    “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s ABC Unit inspected more than fifty private bars last night to inform establishment owners/management of guidelines concerning onsite alcohol sales and consumption. Attorneys with the State ABC Commission have advised the CMPD that private bars are restricted from onsite consumption under the Governor’s Order.

    No enforcement action was conducted during last night’s inspections.”

    Below, find our interview with Kevin Stone.

    Unpretentious Palate: What’s going on right now, and what’s the enforcement going forward?
    Kevin Stone, Director of Law Enforcement for the Mecklenburg County ABC Board: That’s a good question. As you probably know, there’s three organizations that perform inspections of mixed beverage establishments in Mecklenburg County. That would be ALE, my own agency, and then the ABC unit for CMPD Unit. There’s three different ones out there and we all have our own different interpretations and what we feel are violations. All three agencies do sit down together and talk. We try to coordinate as best we can to make sure we get the same message out to people. It’s very important to all three agencies that whatever message and whatever we are enforcing is the same and it’s consistent because it’s confusing enough as it is. So that’s what we’re trying to do.

    UP: I’m hearing a lot of confusion — some people were told that they should try and switch to get a restaurant license in order to stay open, others to not serve liquor at all and they can remain open. I’m just trying to figure out what actual policy is.
    Stone: What ALE is operating on is that I guess the executive order that came out on July 2, there was apparently an amendment to that most recently that changed things around a little bit. And that’s what ALE is enforcing. Now as far as my own agency goes, we have only heard that amendment is out. We’ve not seen it ourselves. So we’re gonna wait till we actually get a hard copy of it so we can interpret it ourselves instead of hearing how somebody else interprets it. But I guess for clarity on the issue for sure, I would refer you to the ABC Commission itself and get their comment on it. The only thing that I can do is tell you what Mecklenburg County ABC board, how we are handling this situation right now and, you know, really, I can’t speak for the other two agencies involved.

    UP: So there is no change in how things have been operating?
    Stone: From my understanding, ALE has — I don’t know if they’ve been provided with a copy of the amendment to the executive order from July 2, or I don’t know how they’ve got it. But anyhow, they are interpreting the amendment to be that these establishments have to close down. And that’s what they enforce. And like I said, I have not seen their copy of that myself. I have four different people’s version of what’s in it. But up until someone actually provides me with that information, we’re not going for something by word of mouth, obviously. So Mecklenburg County ABC board is not enforcing that amendment as of yet. Now, I’m not saying that we won’t at some point time, but, you know, it’s going to have to be provided to us by the commission or whoever.

    UP: You’re under the impression that an amendment came out just like today or this week?
    Stone: No, not today. It may have been earlier this week or in the last several days. Maybe very early this week or something. But that’s my understanding and that’s what is floating out and about. But I have not tried to run it down because, you know, like a law or anything else, when it gets passed on to us, you know, we’ll take a look at it. And if I have any questions about that one, I will refer to the commission, talk with those folks about it, and then make a determination on what I want to enforce or what I don’t want to enforce. And like I said, I’m not gonna press the issue because it’s not landed in my lap yet.

    UP: I know that there was a push for some kinds of enforcement in regards to the pictures that were coming out of bars that were opening and crowded. What are the kinds of things you are enforcing right now?
    Stone: The county ordered sort of local ordinance or proclamation or whatever you want to ask, which is expired now. Now, we did enforce that, mostly through educating people. And then occasionally we would have to come back and issue them a verbal warning. And then I think there was just a small amount of cases, I mean, very, very few, where we had to cite them for a violation of that order because the vast, vast majority — near about everybody — they’re complying with the order once you educate them. I mean there’s not that many what I call problem children out there. So that order went away; that has expired and is no longer in place. So what we’re back to now is the executive order. … Now there’s been this amendment to it. And we’re not enforcing anything with the new amendment, where bars and stuff have to close or go back to restaurant status up until, like I say, I see amendment in writing because all this stuff is very complicated.

    UP: One clarifying question, since there seems to be a lot of confusion. What is the responsibility of ALE versus the ABC Commission’s enforcement? What is the division in terms of enforcement?
    Stone: Really, locally here in Mecklenburg County, nothing. We, the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, as does the CMPD ABC unit, and ALE, all three of us have the same jurisdictions here in Mecklenburg County. Now, the difference being ALE is a state organization and they can take that to all 100 counties. But here we’re all the same. And that’s why there’s always an effort between the sergeant over at ABC Unit, Omar Quereshi over at ALE and myself, we frequently discuss these things to make sure, you know that our officers and our agencies are making the same interpretations, you know, and not confusing ourselves and particularly the bar or restaurant owners even more.

    UP: So have you all met up today, given everything that’s been going around today to get messaging straight?
    Stone: No, because, well, I mean, I’ve talked with those guys, like I say, here goes where we’re at with that. I understand what their interpretations are. But up until I’ve seen it myself, I’m not going enforce something until I’ve seen it myself.

    UP: For enforcement to happen do all three of you have to be on the same page?
    Stone: No, no, no. Absolutely not. Again, it’s up to each individual agency as to how they want to enforce anything or what the interpretation of it is.

    UP: Is there any chance that this is just a changing interpretation of the initial order? Because I know the initial order was a little confusing concerning private clubs and bars, and having a kitchen and not having a kitchen.
    Stone: A little confusion? It’s been a lot of confusion. We’ve talked about that over and over and over. To answer your question, I don’t think so, because I have heard that there is an amendment that has been put out.

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