Forum Right, 5/1/12

Dayton Drops The Hammer on Hammerjax

The Dayton City Commission recently voted to formally object to the renewal of six liquor permits of bars and carry-outs located in Dayton. Taking advantage of the yearly renewal process, the city government will attempt to have the liquor license removed from these establishments. For each of the six, the Dayton Police has given a negative report to the city about the activities associated with these locations. The city takes the action to protect Dayton residents from possibly coming to harm at these bars and to protect the right of those living near the bars to the quiet enjoyment of their neighborhoods.

The objection, if successful, will mean these four bars and two carry-outs will in all likelihood be forced to close their doors. This will affect not only the owner and the capital that has been invested in the establishment, but the employees as well, who face the loss of their jobs in this very uncertain job market. For the owners, the action by the city has the affect of taking away their businesses.

There is due process available for an owner who feels the action taken by the city is unwarranted, as the formal objection by the city is just a first step. If a hearing is requested, a hearing officer from the Department of Liquor Control conducts a hearing where evidence from all parties is presented. A decision is mailed to the parties and that decision can be appealed to the three-person Commission on Liquor Control. The Commissions decision can be appealed to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court which hears all appeals for the entire state on appeal from a Commission decision.

Despite the fact that an owner has a lot at stake financially, the issuance of liquor permits is considered a privilege, and not a right in the State of Ohio. There are numerous court cases which decide the issue. The court has pointed out that although legal by Ohio law, the sale of liquor has in it such dangers that it is entirely subject to the police power of the state. With that power, comes the power to revoke a license previously granted.  “A license or a right to such a license, to engage in the liquor business is not an inherent right of a citizen, a contract or a property right. State, ex rel. Zugravu, v. O’Brien, 130 Ohio St., 23, 196 N. E., 664.  It is well settled in under Ohio law that there is no right to a liquor permit.

In the instance of Hammerjax’s, the police presented a report that showed they were called to the establishment 62 times in the period from January 2011 to January 2012. There were 17 crime reports taken.  There were a number of assaults, some aggravated assaults, disorderly conduct and other misdemeanors reported. The report doesn’t include a very recent shooting at Hammerjax’s where a bartender was shot in the back when re-entering the bar at closing time. There is a history of violent behavior coming from Hammerjax’s which the owners have been unable to curtail. On occasion, the disturbances from Hammerjax’s have grown so large that the police from the Central District, which is essentially downtown, have needed to call on squads from other police districts.  Clearly, Hammerjax’s has been a problem child for the police.

In addition the Dayton Police Department, there were a number of groups objecting to the renewal of the Hammerjax’s liquor permit. These included the Sinclair College Police Department, the Downtown Priority Board, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and a number of residents who live in downtown including residents from nearby St Clair Lofts.

A letter from the Chairman of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan to the Dayton Commission outlined the great progress that downtown Dayton had made in recent years towards making the central city the premiere destination for arts and entertainment. The letter went on to say that reports in the media about troubled establishments like Hammerjax’s made non-Daytonians less likely to visit downtown Dayton out of fear for their safety, thus undermining the progress downtown Dayton was enjoying.

This will not be the first time a popular nightspot in Dayton got a red card. In the Oregon District there has long been a contentious relationship between the bars of 5th Street and the good citizens residing in renovated homes in the District. In 1982 there was even a vote to make the entire precinct dry. That caused some sleepless nights for the business owners on 5th Street. The vote was unsuccessful and the Oregon Business District continues to sell alcohol today.

In the ‘80s there was not a more popular bar in Dayton than Jonathon’s in the Oregon District. On Saturday nights, there was an hour long wait to get in. However, by the early ‘90s the residents of the Oregon District had enough of the rowdy behavior coming from the bar.  Tired of noisy patrons from the bar wandering drunk through the residential section of the Oregon District at all hours, taking up their parking spots and urinating on their rose bushes, the residents of the district filed a ballot initiate to vote 11 Brown Street (Jonathon’s address) “dry”. On a close vote of 112 to 105, Dayton precinct 1-B voted to revoke Jonathon’s liquor permit. The owners took a huge economic loss. But ten years later, out of the ashes of the old Jonathon’s, a new favorite Dayton spot has arisen … Thai 9.

The lesson here is for bar owners to keep a tight reign on their business and their patrons. A lax attitude towards misbehaving customers will soon have you learning the expensive lesson that your liquor license is a privilege and not a right.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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