MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- State alcohol enforcement officials have fined liquor-law violators dozens of times because cities have declined to do so.
In the four years ending in 2001, state officials have stepped in and levied fines in nearly 50 cities in Minnesota.
In some instances, state officials said, cities have been slow to adopt ordinances calling for fines because the bar owners have close ties to city officials, or because city leaders do not want to cause friction with the business community.
"There's political pressure on people involved on the City Council not ... to do it," said Scott Stewart, a program coordinator at the state's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.
In an effort to stiffen the cities' resolve, state officials last year adopted rules requiring cities to impose fines for liquor violations in order to keep receiving grant money aimed at curbing drinking among minors.
The grant program, known as Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws, is in its fifth year and annually disperses roughly $190,000 to cities for compliance checks at bars and liquor stores.
Although some city officials have argued that it is enough to have the employee who sold alcohol to minors face criminal charges, state officials insist that the business also face punishment.
As a result, cities now must have "something in place where there's some sanctions," said Frank Ball, the state director of Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement.
Before these new requirements, the state frequently found itself levying fines for violations uncovered by the grant program.
In 2001, 33 businesses in Eagan were fined $500 each by the state for selling or serving alcohol to minors. Two others were fined $1,000. State officials said they acted after the city declined to heed their recommendation that fines be imposed.
Kent Therkelsen, Eagan's police chief, said the city has since adopted an ordinance calling for mandatory fines. City Council members may have been hesitant, said the chief, because they "want good relations" with business owners and are "happier with the carrot than the stick" approach.
In New Prague, five businesses that had served alcohol to minors were fined $500 each by the state in 2000 after City Administrator Jerome Bohnsack declined to levy civil fines.
Bohnsack said that since the cases were tried separately in criminal court, he felt the businesses had already been held accountable. "We just choose to have the courts handle it," he said.
Bohnsack also expressed a concern, shared by other critics of the grant program, that the practice of sending underage decoys into businesses to try to buy drinks constituted "entrapment" and was unfair.
One of the businesses in New Prague fined by the state was Schumacher's Hotel, a widely acclaimed restaurant and local landmark.
"That was the first time those guys had ever been caught," Bohnsack said.
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