Friday, April 04, 2008

Convenience stores fight licensing law (thank goodness!)

It's official. In a lawsuit filed yesterday in Federal Court, the Midwest Retailers Association, Ltd. is seeking to overturn a convenience store licensing law passed in December by Toledo City Council.

The attorney for the case, Scott Ciolek, has set up a website to track the case events and includes a .pdf of the actual complaint. My on-air discussions of this law are available on the WSPD pod cast page (December 4, 6, 7, and 12). You can also search this blog for 'convenience store licensing fees' for the many posts I made on the issue.

For quick background, our council gets a lot of complaints about illegal activity around convenience stores. Because the laws are not enforced by the police department (due to lack of staff or low priority), the elected officials decided to make the owners of such property responsible for the activity. Of course, the only way to do so would be to create a license for them and then threaten them with revocation of their license if other people do bad things on or near their property. It originally went so far as to require these owners to clean up litter within a one-block radius, even though that specific requirement was not included in the final version.

This is one of the most anti-business pieces of legislation Toledo has considered in ages. While the elected officials said they had several meetings on the issue, the final draft of the law wasn't circulated to store owners and many onerous and costly requirements were never shared with the majority of convenience stores.

As a result of the coverage of this by me and WSPD, there were some changes to the law made at the last minute. But even those were not shared with the public nor the owners prior to the actual vote on the law.

Now that the law is scheduled to take effect next month and store owners are learning all the details, they have joined together to fight it - and, it appears, with a very strong case.

One of the many points of contention, from the web page on the case:

Section 722.11 part 2:

Once a reasonable opportunity to cure the problems has been afforded to the licensee without substantial success, a license should be revoked even though the license holder has taken all reasonable measures to achieve compliance.

“Problems” specifically listed for which the business owner is now held accountable include gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, weapons possession, disorderly conduct, loitering, public nuisance, and obstructing legal process. (721.15)

A business owner doesn’t have the authority to take action to personally stop any of these activities. Unless the city of Toledo intends to force business owners to take up arms and dispense vigilante justice, then the most responsible action business owners could take to curb illegal activities on their property would be to notify the police of the activity. If a business owner has contacted the Toledo P.D. and criminal activity continues on the premises, isn’t that a reflection on the police department? Why are we punishing the business owner because the police are incapable of eliminating crime? Basically, the business owner is being held accountable for the failures of the police department.

Perhaps the section should read:

Once a reasonable opportunity to cure the problems has been afforded to the Toledo Police Department without substantial success, all officers and administrators will be terminated, even though the department has taken all reasonable measures to achieve compliance.

Obviously that would be ridiculous, too, but at least you’d be holding the people who are actually responsible for reducing crime accountable, as opposed to just transferring responsibility to private citizens. If police—who legally carry weapons, arrest and detain citizens, and are authorized to use deadly force,—can’t eliminate crime at these locations, why would anyone think a convenience store owner can do it?

I'll be talking with Scott Ciolek today at 4:30, so tune in as I sub for Brian Wilson and the Afternoon Drive 3-6 p.m. And check back for updates on the case!

No comments:

Google Analytics Alternative