Last call for alcohol.
-- George Thorogood
At best, Albany City Commissioner Tommie Postell's response was disingenious.
Responding to a comment by attorney, and former city commissioner, Bo Dorough before a planned alcohol license non-renewal hearing Wednesday morning, Postell said, "You're making an assumption, and you can't make statements based on assumptions. ... You don't know how Jon is going to vote."
Ummmm ... yes, Mr. Commissioner, Dorough does know how Jon -- that being Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, the longest-serving member of the commission -- is going to vote. Unless some alien life force invades Howard's body, when it comes to an alcohol-related item, Howard is voting no.
Always has, and -- most likely -- always will.
What Dorough didn't note when he made the comment about his former colleague -- but probably should have -- is that another member of the commission, Ward II Commissioner Ivey Hines, who is a minister, has abstained from voting on any alcohol-related agenda item in his year-plus on the board.
You want an alcohol license in Albany -- even if it's a one-day license for a charity event for like, say, the Girls Inc. wine-tasting fundraiser -- you go through the doors at the Government Center two votes down.
(Before we get much further into this, let me point out that I have yet to meet anyone who has a bad thing to say about either Howard or Hines. Both are, as far as anyone in the community I've talked to is concerned, honorable men.)
But the ongoing non-renewal hearings -- at which five Albany nightspots are being targeted for possible loss of their alcohol licenses for the severity of illegal activities on or near their properties -- has brought the "one no, one abstention" comment that Mayor Dorothy Hubbard makes automatically on city alcohol votes into the spotlight. And lately more than a few citizens in the community -- drinkers and non-drinkers alike -- are asking the personal-choice-vs.-responsibility question about Howard's and Hines' votes.
To their credit, both commissioners said Wednesday after Dorough's comments that they would listen to the evidence presented at the hearings before deciding how to vote. Hines even said, "I don't want to deny anyone an opportunity to make a living without hearing their evidence."
But none of the owners of the five establishments would be advised to hang his hopes of maintaining an alcohol license on a vote of support from either Howard, who is a drug- and alcohol-abuse counselor, or Hines.
And that fact concerns city officials.
"We haven't had a case where it's become an issue, but there is that risk," City Manager James Taylor said after Wednesday's hearing was postponed. "I think that (the expected votes by Howard and Hines) is why the commission tries to make sure there is a full contingent present before they take a vote on an issue that involves alcohol, so that it will still have a chance to pass.
"Hopefully, in a situation like this, both commissioners will enter into the hearings understanding that they can vote their conscience and still vote to support the renewal of alcohol licenses if they feel that is the vote that's required. We've talked about this before -- and I understand the convictions of both commissioners -- but it's probably something we'll have to talk about again."
City Attorney Nathan Davis said neither commissioner is violating any city or state ethics law while casting his "no" or "abstain" ballots on alcohol matters, and one of the pair's colleagues, Commissioner Bob Langstaff, who is an attorney, said he thinks Howard's stand in particular would most likely stand up to a court challenge if one were forthcoming.
"I think an argument can be made -- and I think a judge would give it a lot of consideration -- that Jon is simply voting the way his constituents want him to vote," Langstaff said. "I think you could argue that if they were opposed to the way he votes, they would not keep sending him back to the commission."
The commission will decide the fate of two of the five nightclubs -- Charley B's Sports Bar and Grill and Club Xscape -- at its night business meeting Tuesday, and commissioners will determine whether Legends Lounge, Big Daddy's Lounge and the Sandtrap Club and Lounge can maintain their licenses at a special called meeting Jan. 29. However, city officials may have to prepare for the possibility that the well-intentioned votes of two respected commissioners could potentially go a long way in determining if the decisions made at the hearings are indeed final.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com.