Champaign council dissolves liquor advisory commission

Champaign council dissolves liquor advisory commission

CHAMPAIGN – The city's liquor advisory commission is no more, after the city council Tuesday night unanimously voted to dissolve the group.

Following the vote, Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart said the commission meets infrequently and has become irrelevant, but he promised to keep the local alcohol industry informed of city liquor policies.

"It's just reached a time when I think we can safely close this without a negative effect," Schweighart said.

The commission was formed in 1993 to advise the city council and the liquor commissioner on alcohol policy. In recent years, Schweighart said, the issues discussed at the group's meetings have been insubstantial, and often the city council disregards its recommendations.

"A lot of the issues have gone by the wayside," Schweighart said.

Tuesday's dissolution might not be the end for a paring down of city committees, Schweighart said. Officials have been evaluating the viability of other advisory groups.

Schweighart declined to name the committees that might be on the cutting block, but several city bodies frequently cancel meetings.

The liquor advisory commission, created to meet monthly, has met less frequently in the past year – only five times – and its agendas have not contained any significant policy issues.

The repeal of the liquor advisory commission inherently cuts costs, although that was not the driving force behind the dissolution, Schweighart said. According to city documents, city workers spend about 15 to 20 hours preparing for liquor advisory commission meetings, and those hours can now be opened up for other responsibilities during a tight budget period.

Ruth McCauley, associate dean of students at the University of Illinois and the commission's chairwoman, said last week that the council's disregard for the advisers recommendations has been frustrating.

"There were frustrations on both parts," Schweighart said.

The liquor commissioner will now keep in direct contact with liquor industry leaders, often via e-mail, so individuals will receive information at the same time, Schweighart said. He added that one of the problems with the commission was that advisers were not reporting back to their constituents.

Also during Tuesday night's meeting, council members voted 5-3 for an agreement with the Atkins Group, the developer of the Apollo industrial subdivision, just off Olympian Drive.

The agreement allows Atkins a grace period of two or more years before requiring new businesses in the subdivision to build sidewalks in certain areas. The contract anticipates a yet-to-be codified council policy that would require sidewalks on both sides of the subdivision's street.

It also includes economic incentives for the Atkins Group that are above the city standard: Disbursements of up to $150,000 from the city's general fund would be given to Atkins to be used on infrastructure that improves the commercial attractiveness of the subdivision. The size of those disbursements would depend on how many jobs an Apollo development creates – $1,500 per employee and a minimum of 20 new jobs.

The incentive is offered to other developers in Champaign, but at a $1,000 per employee rate up to a $100,000 maximum.