EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — Closing time will not come any earlier for four East Dubuque bars, following action by the City Council on Monday night.
While the move was a relief to several bar owners and other opponents of an earlier closing time, the outcome was strongly denounced by proponents, including Mayor Kirk VanOstrand.
“I’m ashamed to be mayor knowing that I have council members that voted for crime, violence and murders for the citizens of East Dubuque,” he said after the meeting.
During the meeting, council members weighed a recommendation by City Manager Loras Herrig calling for the elimination of the city’s class B liquor license — and with it, the ability of those license holders to stay open until 3:30 a.m. Four taverns now have those licenses.
Meanwhile, other liquor license holders in the city must close at 1:30 a.m.
Under Herrig’s proposal, all license holders would close at 2 a.m.
Herrig said he recommended the move in an effort to reduce the high volume of violence that occurs downtown after 2 a.m. Among the recent high-profile incidents was the killing of Jennifer L. Miller, 44, of Dubuque, who was fatally shot on Sinsinawa Avenue at about 2:45 a.m. April 21. No arrests have been made in the case.
“Do we want to continue to sponsor benefits for the children of dead mothers, or do we truly want to honor the memory of Jenny Miller by making sure that no more children lose their mothers on the streets?” Herrig asked. “I have been clear with my answer, and I won’t take the easy road and bow to public pressure.”
Herrig noted that current Police Chief Luke Kovacic and former Chief Steve O’Connell have recommended that closing times be moved earlier from 3:30 a.m.
About 50 people packed into City Hall for the meeting, including several bar owners who pleaded for council members not to change their closing time.
Mike Meyer, owner of The Other Side, said he likely would need to lay off about nine employees to make up for lost revenue if the change was implemented. He added that he is willing to work with the city in other ways to reduce violence downtown.
“I need this time to be successful in business,” he said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to work on things.”
Jim Ege Jr., co-owner of George’s Bar & Grill, said bars with the class B liquor license rely on the income earned from staying open past 2 a.m. and that he believed they should not be punished for the increased violence.
He previously estimated that his business will lose at least $90,000 per year if forced to close earlier.
“You guys doing this is going to put us out of business,” Ege Jr. said. “There’s nobody fighting in my place. We need to find other resolutions.”
Ultimately, Council Member Adam Arling made a motion calling for liquor license holders to close at 2 a.m., rather than 3:30, but it failed when no one seconded it.
Council Member Dawn Stelpflug then made a motion to not make any changes to the current liquor license ordinance. Randy Degenhardt was the lone council member to vote against that motion, so it passed.
After the meeting, Arling declined to comment.
Council Member Delbert Belken said after the meeting that he opposed forcing the bars to close earlier and felt instead that the city should take one year to try to implement policies that would reduce violence without restricting liquor licenses.
“It was a rough discussion,” he said. “I wasn’t for the change. We should give them some time to try to make things better first.”
Degenhardt said he voted against the motion recommending no changes be made because of his concerns about the safety of police officers working downtown at night. He added that he is also in favor of the city taking one year to implement other policies that could reduce violence downtown.
“I don’t want to see somebody killed,” he said. “We should have talked it over more.”