Beverage Board expected to review illegal beer sales next month

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Beverage Board is expected to consider possible disciplinary action next month against three markets and two restaurants cited by police for selling alcoholic beverages to under age customers.
   Elizabethton police conducted a sting operation in November in which an undercover informant attempted to purchase alcoholic beverages from every business licensed to sell beer within the city, according to Chief Roger Deal.
   "Most of these places have been responsible," said Deal, "but occasionally you have an employee that gets lax and doesn't check an identification."
   Retail markets Winn Dixie on U.S. Highway 19-E, Ingle's supermarket in Carter County Plaza, and the Roadrunner market on West G Street were cited for selling beer to the informant who was over age 18 but under age 21, Deal said.
   An employee at the Pizza Hut restaurant and the owner of the Creekside Coffey Cafe, which hold on-premises beer permits, were also cited for illegal beer sales.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said Thursday that a Beverage Board meeting was tentatively scheduled to coincide with the city council meeting scheduled for Jan. 9. The council would convene before the beverage board meeting. Elizabethton City Council also acts as the city's Beverage Board to approve applications for on- and off-premise permits to sell beer.
   "The suspension of the license is certainly an option," said Charles Stahl, Elizabethton city manager. "They could suspend or revoke as an alternative."
   Violators have been subject to fines of up to $1,500 or having their licenses to sell beer temporarily suspended, usually for three days to one week.
   Stahl also pointed out that the Beverage Board could impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for other violations of city ordinances by a permit holder.
   The Roadrunner market violation was the business's second offense after being cited in a similar sting operation in 2000, according to Deal.
   The five employees charged appeared in Carter County General Sessions Court this week. The warrants named the five employees cited for making the sale.
   Defendants Tara R. Britt, Debra L. Freeman, and Jack H. Coffey received a $50 fine and 11 months, 29 day suspended sentence of probation, according to Sessions Court rulings issued on Monday. Defendant Amy Clark received a $50 fine and a 5-month, 29-day suspended sentence on the charge of selling alcohol to a minor, according to the court record.
   Charges filed against Debbie D. Ramsey were continued until Jan. 14.
   Deal said he would prefer sentences be "a little stiffer" to keep clerks aware of the responsibility that they took on by selling alcoholic beverages.
   There are 25 permits to sell beer issued in the city of Elizabethton. Permit holders range from convenience stores to private clubs.
   Two permit holders -- the VFW Post #2166 and Creekside Coffey Cafe -- hold licenses to sell beer for consumption both on-site and take away. The Coffey Cafe received the last beer sales permit issued by the Board in August.
   To obtain an on-premises license, most restaurants are required to have a capacity of not less than 100 persons and have their primary business be that of serving food to be prepared and consumed on site, according to city ordinance.