published Friday, December 6th, 2013

Chattanooga Beer & Wrecker Board struggles over enforcement

  • photo
    Karl Epperson of Chattanooga
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Chattanooga Beer & Wrecker Board members are talking about cracking down on businesses that flout the city's regulations.

One bar owner recently "gave Officer [John] Collins a one-finger salute and said, 'you can't stop me,'" board member Karl Epperson said during Thursday's meeting.

Chattanooga police Sgt. Mark Haskins, who oversees the Regulatory Bureau, said that if officers learn of illegal beer sales or a special event taking place without a permit, they can shut it down.

Other than that, he said, there's not much recourse if event hall owners choose to not get special-gathering permits or bar owners keep pouring even after their licenses are revoked.

"The only option I see would be to pull the business license, if we're able to do that," Haskins said.

In the past the city has filed nuisance actions against problem bars with repeat violations.

But there has to be documented evidence of crimes being committed at the business, and that's "almost impossible to get," Haskins said.

There needs to be an alternative, he said.

"I was trying to find some other step," he said.

But Ken Fritz, a city attorney, said the state oversees business licenses.

"The city has no power. That would be a state action," he said.

Haskins said he has noticed an increase in bars violating city code.

"Partly, I think, it's the economy. People are breaking the rules more to make money," he said.

A group of residents affected by a bar or event hall can petition the court to have it closed.

"Maybe something ought to be put out to the public. We need their help if they want to see a place closed down," said board member Andre Harriman.

The burden shouldn't be placed on neighbors to close a business, Haskins said.

"It shouldn't be on the residents. It's the law. We have the badges. That's what we do," he said.

"There's got to be a way. We may have to go through City Council. ... We cite you once, you get suspended. We cite you again, you get revoked. Then, what?"

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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