SP Mayor and Liquor License Board under scrutiny

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 5            February 4, 2010

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In the January 14th, 2010 issue of The San Pedro Sun, the composition of the new Liquor License Board was made public. At the helm of the Liquor License Board is Councilor Pablo Ico. Other members include Ramon Calderon, Severito Guerrero Jr., George Paz, Roberto Canul and a representative from the Police, Health and Fire Departments along with ex-officio member Mayor Elsa Paz. But, for the past couple weeks, there has been trouble brewing within the Board. The problems stem from a range of issues including the composition of the board, businesses allowed to operate without a liquor license, allegations of interference by the Mayor within the Liquor License Board and even accusations against the Police Department for non-enforcement of the Liquor License laws.

    To start, five of the nine board members are nominated by the Town Council. The Mayor automatically sits on any board that falls under the auspices of the council, including the Liquor License Board. According to at least three board members, not all members within the board are not in agreement with its composition. One of the members not in agreement is Chairman of the Liquor Board Councilor Pablo Ico. It has been stated, by the three board members who chose to come forward, that the two members in question are George Paz and Roberto Canul, who both run establishments that require a liquor license. Councilor Ico told The Sun that, “it is my strong belief that no bar owner should be a member of the board; that is the reason that I have a problem with the composition of the board.” George Paz operates Big Daddy’s Night Club, while Canul operates Stadium Sports Bar and Club Nirvana. When questioned about the appointment of the Board, Mayor Elsa Paz stated that recommendations were made by four of her councilors. The Mayor stated that Councilor Romel Gomez recommended Roberto Canul while Councilor Juan Alamilla recommended George Paz. When asked if there is any conflict of interest in these appointments, Mayor Paz stated, “I will agree that there is a conflict of interest, but when the councilors made those recommendations there is nothing much that I can do because I don’t want to be in conflict with them.” According to the Mayor, councilors try to recommend names from within the members of the UDP executive.

    However, that is just one issue stemming from the Liquor Board. The Sun was able to obtain six letters written by The San Pedro Liquor License Board which were issued to various establishments on the island. The attention was called to these establishments because they have operated for the period Year 2009 to 2010 without paying for their Liquor License. In response to delinquent establishments operating without paying for their Liquor License, Mayor Paz stated that the Council’s responsibility is to collect the revenue stemmed by the Liquor Fees. However, if a business is delinquent in paying said fees, the establishment is deemed illegal and the Police Department’s duty is to shut them down. Mayor Paz continued by saying, “I blame the police for not enforcing the law.” The Mayor further claimed that in the past, the Council has written to the Police Department asking them to pursue businesses who have not paid for their license. “This,” she said, “has not been done.”

    The Police Department however, not only categorically refuted the Mayor’s allegation, but claimed that on several occasions, The Mayor has “interfered” with them (the police) when they have attempted to enforce the Liquor License law. Officials at the Department state that the biggest issue in enforcement has been met when trying to close down Big Daddy’s. Former Chairman of the Liquor License Board Giovanni Marin also made a similar accusation against The Mayor. Accusations about the Mayor’s interference came from both past and current board members, who claim that the family-owned club had been operating without a liquor license for the last year. Additionally, bars who desire to remain open past midnight are required to apply for an extension at the SPTC. Big Daddy’s had been granted their extension but according to allegations those fees for last year are also still outstanding.

    On January 12th, 2010, six businesses received the above mentioned letter, including Big Daddy’s Night Club. The Night Club, the letter states, has failed to pay their liquor license from February 1st, 2009 to January 31st, 2010 and arrears outstanding were $2,625. The letter, addressed to Javier Paz indicated that those arrears be “cleared by 12 noon on January 29th, 2010.” On February 1st, the Police Department enforced the law and closed down Big Daddy’s until proper payment arrangements were made.

    Management of the Night Club proceeded to make payment arrangements in the form of a promissory note in which the owners of Big Daddy’s Club committed to pay for last year’s outstanding liquor license arrears by weekly installments of $300 until the account is cleared.

    The January 12th letter continues to inform Big Daddy’s that their 2010 license had a fee of $3,000 meaning that their license had been approved. Another document leaked to The Sun shows that Big Daddy’s, on Monday, February 1st, 2010 paid $750 for their liquor license for a quarter of a year; February 1st to April 30, 2010.

    The Police Department has stated that they will enforce the full Liquor Laws once Mayoral interference is not present. Out of the six establishments who received the January 12th, 2010, and who still have fees include Fred Roth and Ellison Skeen, Marino’s Bar and The Family Store. When asked why these businesses have been allowed to operate despite their outstanding arrears, the Mayor reiterated that it’s the Police responsibility to close down such businesses and she strongly recommends that the relevant authorities enforce the law. Police claim that the Mayor’s change of behavior came only after the Liquor issues came to light and they [the police] would not proceed with enforcing the law if the Mayor expected them to act impartial towards certain business owners who are in violation.

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