Questions of fair play and “managerial control” are arising regarding the Village of Oak Lawn’s approval of one liquor license and the failure to approve another one.
On September 23rd, audience members and at least one business owner were shocked when Mayor Sandra Bury and the Board of Trustees approved a liquor license for Fed’s Food and Liquor at 103rd and Central Avenue and then minutes later failed to approve a request for a license by Mr. Gyros at 92nd and Cicero.
Mayor Bury asked if there was a motion to approve the license for Mr. Gyros, which would like to add video gaming to its business. Mr. Gyros would not be the first fast food restaurant with a liquor license or gaming license. In fact, the village approved the same license for Big Pappa’s Gyros, a supporter of Mayor Bury.
Big Pappa’s reportedly makes $30,000 a year in video gaming revenue because of the liquor license. Any business with a liquor license that includes pouring drinks is eligible for a gaming license from the State of Illinois. Local municipalities, like Oak Lawn, receive a portion of the gambling revenue from its licensees. In addition, the liquor license fee is $6,250 and the application fee is $250.
The crowd appeared stunned that the board unanimously approved one license and then turned around and failed to act on the second license. However, the reason may be more stunning.
The Oak Lawn Leaf has learned exclusively that Village Manager Larry Deetjen sent the Mayor and Trustees a strong message against issuing the license weeks before any action was taken.
Deetjen wrote to the Mayor and Trustees on August 29, 2014. About Fed Liquors, he wrote, “He lives in Oak Lawn and has a background in business.” He then turned his attention to Mr. Gyros stating, “The second application is for J.K. International d/b/a Mr. Gyros at 9229 S. Cicero. I am not familiar with the applicant nor has he asked to meet with my office where the other applicant did reach out and do so.”
The memo from Deetjen to the Board of Trustees raises several questions including whether the unsuccessful applicant was treated differently because he failed to contact Deetjen prior to the meeting.
The village’s own ordinance does not require a meeting with the village manager for an application to be approved. In fact, a review of the ordinance indicates only a limited number of reasons for denying a liquor license application.
Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) said it was very unusual for any village manager to weigh in on the application process. “If the license wasn’t acted upon because this applicant didn’t pay homage to Larry (Deetjen) it is another example of poor leadership,” said Streit. By virtue of state law and local ordinance, Mayor Bury is the liquor commissioner. Deetjen does not have any official role in issuing liquor licenses.
Mayor Bury has been criticized in the past for “selective” enforcement of violations of the liquor license. Some violations of the ordinance have been ignored leading many to believe that the enforcement action has been designed only to attack political opponents. For instance, the brother of Bury’s campaign manager, Tom Phelan, did not have his license suspended while another licensee with the same violation was suspended.
The lack of approval of Mr. Gyros application also raises issues of favoritism based on political support. While Big Pappa’s Gyros’, a competitor of Mr. Gyros, application was approved this year, Mr. Gyros, an identical business, was not. Big Pappa’s distributed Bury campaign literature at its counter during the 2013 Mayoral election.
Mr. Gyros reportedly is seeking legal counsel to take action against the village, which failed to act on the application.