Snohomish police chief wants tougher stance on taverns

SNOHOMISH — Police Chief John Turner wants Snohomish to be harder on bars than any other city in the state.

He’s trying to create a five-person liquor advisory committee, even as a state Liquor Control Board official says problems in the city seem to be drying up.

The board could improve safety, Turner said, but some local business owners fear it will simply add bureaucratic hurdles.

Residents can weigh in on the plan Tuesday night during a Snohomish City Council public hearing.

For the past year, bars have been a hot topic in Snohomish. Alcohol-fueled crime started raising questions about bar-hoppers on First Street. Violent outbursts included a stabbing, a near-riot during Kla Ha Ya Days and a fight that sent a man to a Seattle hospital with a crushed skull.

Those incidents led Turner to propose adding security cameras on the block. That plan was scrapped in December after it failed to win support from downtown businesses.

The state Liquor Control Board ended up increasing enforcement on First Street, a touristy block that includes about 10 liquor license holders, according to state officials.

From October through February, the state issued eight citations for offenses that included over-serving of patrons and servers drinking while on the job.

State officials have found no evidence of wrongdoing since February, however. The state could end its enhanced enforcement by July, said Capt. Tom Dixon with the state Liquor Control Board.

“It looks like things are getting better,” he said. “I say that very cautiously.”

That sense of caution is all the more reason to create the city’s own liquor advisory committee, Turner said.

The five-person panel would include three residents and two business owners. The group would advise the police chief on whether a bar should hold a liquor license. If the panel was opposed, the city could send an objection to the state, the final authority on licenses.

Turner said he will defer to the panel, even though the proposed ordinance leaves the final power to make objections in his hands.

“I know that,” he said. “I didn’t write that, by the way. I’m going to be listening to the board.”

Turner said the panel would focus its reviews on bars that run afoul of local police or the state. The panel could show that Turner isn’t alone in objecting to some establishments, he said.

“Obviously there are a few people who disagree with my thinking on First Street,” he said. “It (the board) kind of provides an objective viewpoint.”

The proposed panel may be unique in the state, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said. Typically, a mayor or police chief has total control over liquor license objections.

“That’s a thorough way of getting a recommendation,” Smith said of the panel, noting he wasn’t criticizing it.

Some business owners were critical, though. Mark Nuss, owner of Fred’s Rivertown Alehouse, is representing that group through his role with Historic Downtown Snohomish.

“The majority of them are not for this,” Nuss said.

The city has a historical precedent for a board. A police advisory board reviewed liquor licenses as part of a broader mission to gather resident input in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sue Sullivan, 59, of Snohomish, was on that board. The former owner of Silver King Cafe on First Street said the board patched up relationships between bars and the police. She suggested creating the new board to Turner, feeling it could have similar success.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to mend fences,” she said.

The final decision on the panel rests with the City Council, which has mixed views going into the hearing.

“I don’t see why we need another level of bureaucracy,” City Councilman Tom Hamilton said.

Mayor Karen Guzak didn’t see it as bureaucracy, however.

“It would seem to me to be a good solution to some of the conflicts, either real or perceived, that we’ve had,” she said.

Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; arathbun@heraldnet.com.

Council hearing

The City Council plans to hold a public hearing on creating a liquor advisory committee at its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting. The meeting is scheduled at the School Administration Center, George Gilbertson Boardroom, 1601 Ave. D.

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