Alcohol compliance protocols challenged

WESTFIELD – The License Commission agreed last night to amend its procedures for conducting underage alcohol sales compliance checks after discussing the concerns of a group of licensed business related to a “sting” in September.
The Westfield Liquor Licensee Association was formed to present a united voice and to protest what the individuals members feel are deceptive practices by the city.
John Bonavita, owner of the Tavern On the Green Restaurant, served as the spokesman for the 35 to 40 licensees and their employees of restaurants, bars, and package stores across the city.
“This is a great opportunity to have an open discussion in a non-confrontational setting,” Bonavita said. “This group is newly formed because we feel that there were discrepancies in the policy used for the September sting.”
“We as a group have always trained (staff) by the 17 guidelines the Massachusetts ABCC (Alcohol Beverage Control Board) has put forward. Most of us were trained on those procedures,” Bonavita said. “We’d like to ask the commission to adopt the 17 state guidelines, then we’ll have something to follow.”
Bonavita said the License Commission policies appear to involve “trickery” which would be alleviated by adopting of the ABCC compliance check guidelines.
“It will be neat and clear if we adopt the state guidelines,” Bonavita said. “Under the state guideline you just ask the (underage person participating in the compliance check) if they are 21 years of age, then that person leaves.”
Bonavita said that the city’s policy requires employees to check the person’s identification, of which there are several, to check the age and which under the lighting in bars is difficult to read.
Commissioner Edward Diaz commended the licensees for appearing before the commission.
“I’d like to thank everyone for being here,” Diaz said. “What we’re seeing tonight is a community at work. If people didn’t care this room wouldn’t be packed.”
“John, is it the manner in which compliance checks are being done?” Diaz asked Bonavita.
Bonavita identified three issues in the commission’s policy that are of concern to the association members.
Police Chief John Camerota said that he had reviewed those concerns and suggested that the License Commission amend its policy to address those concerns.
“All three of their requests, I have no problem addressing,” Camerota said. “What we found is that there is a perception that we’re trying to deceive them. That is not our intent, so it’s easy for me to make these changes to bring our community together to make it the best it can be.”
Commission Chairman Christopher Mowatt said the board’s policies were adopted to make the community safer and to protect residents.
Mowatt said the commission would continue to review the associations concerns and to “fit their changes into our rules and regulations at the next meeting (set for Nov. 9, 2015).
“We will take all of this under advisement and send a modified policy to the Law Department for its review, then we’ll send you notice about the changes so you can be here for further discussion,” he said.

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