On December 2013, an Oak Lawn tavern and a liquor store were caught selling alcohol to minors by Oak Lawn’s police department.
Two Oak Lawn police officers witnessed a bartender at PJ’s Pourhouse, 5635 W. 87th St., serve a bottle of beer to an 18- and 19 year-old, according to reports. The bartender was charged with selling alcohol to minors, an Oak Lawn ordinance violation.
That same night the two minors purchased a case of beer at Cardinal Liquor Barn, 9630 S. Southwest Highway, and a clerk was charged with selling alcohol to minors under the same ordinance.
Those two cases came back into the news recently when Oak Lawn Mayor, and Liquor Commissioner, Sandra Bury attempted to explain her decision to not suspend or take other disciplinary action against the establishments.
The issue has political connotations because PJ’s Pourhouse is owned by Patrick Phelan, whose brother, Tom, was Bury’s campaign manager. Instead of Bury charging the bar, a bartender was charged and appeared at an adjudication hearing where she paid $250 to the village.
In addition to the possibility of revocation of a license or suspension of a license, violations for serving minors are punishable under the Liquor Control Ordinance by minimum fines of $500 and maximum fines of $1000. The bartender only paid $250 for the citation against her personally.
Bury admitted that she did not take any action action against PJ’s Pourhouse or the Cardinal Liquor Barn in a rambling defense of her actions. She said that after taking three businesses “to the mat” it was determined that no action should be taken at the local level. She said that the decision was hers to make as liquor commissioner and doesn’t believe that the bars should be penalized twice by being fined by the Village when the State has taken action.
She compared the selling of alcohol to minors as a State of Illinois “sting” and compared penalties at the State and local level as being as unfair as someone who is ticketed for a driving violation and fined by the State and village. She said that government should not work that way.
Bury, at one point, seemed confused about how many licensees were caught in the sting, claiming that there were three when records show only two entities, including PJ’s Pourhouse, being caught. Bury said that it was her decision but also told Trustees that she did not have the information to answer specific questions as to when fines were instituted. She also was contradicted by Oak Lawn’s Police Chief Michael Murray.
Bury asked Murray, “Do you remember how long it would take for the State to prosecute?”
Murray corrected her stating that the violations were issued by Oak Lawn. Bury replied, “Oh, they were?”
Oak Lawn doesn’t have a great number of licensees that have been caught in a police sting for selling alcohol to minors. It’s very rare. That’s a good thing.
But it is a little troubling to hear the Mayor/Liquor Commissioner express “surprise” that the tickets in question were issued by Oak Lawn and not the State of Illinois. After all, it is her job to know the facts.
When one of the licensees is the brother of your top political adviser it would seem very odd that you wouldn’t know the facts of the cases. Perhaps as troubling is the fact that she seems to lecture a Trustee about the fairness of the process when she doesn’t seem to even understand the process or what happened in the cases.
She could tell you in another case that TC’s Pub paid a stiff price for serving its own employees after hours. She could tell you that Chuck E Cheese surrendered their license because of a fight in the parking lot.
Based on the Mayor’s statements, it is unclear if she knew the facts and was lying or she really didn’t know what she was talking about.
If she knew the facts and was lying to protect her political friends and supporters, she should come clean now and admit it. However, if she didn’t know the facts, we have to wonder about her competence to serve as Liquor Commissioner.
Whether the Mayor is intentionally misleading the public or it was a lack of competence, the result is the same. A politically connected bar owner was never disciplined by Sandra Bury for selling alcohol to minors.
Oak Lawn doesn’t deserve such incompetence or possible political favoritism.