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License Commissioners hear complaint of serving to minors

Date: 9/12/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The final performance of the Stearns Square concert series might have been a dry one if the initial vote by the Board of License Commissioners hadn’t been questioned.

On Sept. 5, the board heard a complaint about two incidents of serving to a minor that took place on Aug. 15 at the concert. During a compliance check a 20 year-old police cadet was served beer at two of three beer sales areas operated by the Sheraton Hotel under a one-day liquor license granted to the Business Improvement District, which is the producer of the concert series.

Paul Picknelly, president of Springfield Sheraton and operator of other hotel properties, apologized to the commissioners and noted this was the first time there was ever a violation connected to any of his employees. His company has been selling the beer for the concert series for the past three years.

When asked how this occurred he said that one of the two sales involved an 18-year employee while the other a three-year employee. There were long lines at the beer stands and there was a lack of checking.

Commissioner Orlando Ramos said the board recently established a policy of a five-day license suspension for each infraction, meaning there would be a 10-day suspension of the license. The question became, which license?

While this measure was approved in a vote, it soon was challenged by Commissioner Raymond Berry who noted the Sheraton’s license would be affected by the action rather than BID’s one-day license. Berry and Picknelly expressed concerns what a prohibition of beer sales would do to the final show.

Assistant City Solicitor Stephen Reilly added there would not be enough time for the issuance of a new one-day license to another vendor.

Berry made the motion to re-open the issue and after some discussion Commissioner Denise Kelcy proposed a compromise: if awarded the beer concession next year for the concert season, Picknelly would forfeit the concession for one week; if he does not get the concession, he would have to serve a one-day license suspension at his Sheraton hotel.

Picknelly readily agreed with the arrangement that was approved by three of the commissioners, with chairman Peter Sygnator and Ramos voting against it.

In other action, the board rejected the suggestion of adding a public speak out to its meetings. City Councilor Zaida Luna had suggested the speak-out, similar to the one the City Council has before its formal meetings, and Reilly explained that commissioners could only listen to anyone making a statement and not interact with them. To do so would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

Sygnator said the board already has an effective way of accepting complaint from citizens and the motion was defeated by a four to one vote with Ramos voting for a speak-out.