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Published: Monday, 9/12/2011

Tiffin bar's license in state's sights

Liquor commission sets hearing on smoking-ban violations

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two months after rejecting a liquor license renewal for a Cincinnati-area bar clouded in smoking-ban fines, the state is going after a Tiffin bar.

The Ohio Liquor Control Commission has scheduled a hearing Thursday in Columbus on whether to revoke the license of Sandusky Street Tavern, which has racked up $28,200 in smoking-ban fines and currently owes $24,182.83 with interest and fees to the Ohio Attorney General's office. A decision on the liquor license is not likely to be made immediately, said David McCallister, the commission's executive director.

The vast majority of Ohio establishments are complying with the smoking ban, and other attempts to collect from those that won't pay fines didn't work, said Mike De- Wine, Ohio attorney general. One of the office's duties is collecting unpaid fines for state departments, in this case the Ohio Department of Health.

"Everybody has to follow the law, and there are consequences when they don't follow the law," Mr. DeWine said. "We'll see more actions like this when other establishments don't comply with the law."

Deanna Morgan, who has owned the 43-year-old Sandusky Street Tavern bar for seven years, maintained last week that no one smokes at the bar, and she has lost count of the fines against it. Two $5,000 fines, however, include one from someone leaving a pack of cigarettes on the bar and another from an outside smoker bringing in an ashtray to empty it of butts and ashes, she said.

"We've been fined so many times for ridiculous things," Ms. Morgan said.

Marjorie Broadhead, commissioner of the Seneca County General Health District, did not return calls seeking comment last week. The district has been investigating smoking-ban complaints in Seneca County.

Sandusky Street Tavern's outstanding smoking ban fine record dates to February, 2008, and the most recent of five $5,000 fines was assessed on Aug. 31, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The August fine has not yet been turned over to the state attorney general's office.

Ms. Morgan said she will close the bar, which has four other employees, if the liquor license is lost as she expects. She does not have representation and does not plan to attend the hearing Thursday, she said.

"No, there's no point -- I'll lose," Ms. Morgan said. "I can't afford an attorney. We're lucky to be open now."

She added: "We're not smoking, but it doesn't seem to matter."

Peg's Pub of Evendale, which had owed about $55,900 in smoking-ban fines, is appealing the denial of its liquor license renewal to the commission, according to the Ohio attorney general's office.

About two months ago, the state's attorney general and health department officials approached the Ohio Department of Commerce's division of liquor control about rejecting liquor license renewals for establishments with excessive smoking-ban fines, said Lyn Tolan, liquor control division spokesman.

Statewide, nearly $2 million in smoking ban fines have not been collected by the department of health, and more than $1.5 million in fines turned over to the state attorney general remain unpaid.

Liquor license renewals for Seneca, Erie, and Huron counties are up Feb. 1. With Sandusky Street Tavern, however, the state is asking for the liquor license to be revoked -- which can happen any time -- so the case went directly to the commission, Ms. Tolan said.

The next batch of liquor licenses are for the third of the state that includes Cuyahoga County and are up Oct. 1. Ms. Tolan said the group could include smoking-ban violators whose liquor license renewals have been rejected. .

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department is working with the state attorney general's office to prohibit businesses with huge smoking-ban fines -- such as Rip Cord, Mayfly Tavern, and Delaney's Lounge, all of Toledo -- from renewing liquor licenses in June.

That is when liquor license renewals are up for establishments in Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, and several other northwest Ohio counties.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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