WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 5-0 Wednesday night to renew a special amusement permit for the Bob-In, with a condition that the bar install security cameras on the outside of its building within six weeks.
The vote followed weeks of discussion by city officials about how to decrease alcohol-related problems occurring downtown at night, including stabbings, fights, assaults and broken windows.
Wednesday’s decision came after Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, recused himself from voting on the issue when Bob-In supervisor and bartender Jo-Jo Sincyr insisted his voting would be a conflict of interest because he books music events for other bars.
Thomas was elected council chairman Wednesday night when Mayor Karen Heck broke a 3-3 tie.
He recommended two conditions be placed on the Bob-In’s license: first, that security cameras be installed; and second, that Bob-In owner Gubby Karter hire professional, state-licensed security guards to work at the bar on Friday and Saturday nights.
Some councilors were less than happy Wednesday about Thomas’ recommendations, complaining that they came into the meeting without a clue that he was going to suggest them.
Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, said she was getting a sense that a “select few” councilors got to attend a meeting where conditions were discussed and the other councilors were not apprised of the proposals.
“It’s not a good feeling right now,” Winslow said.
Karter was in the hospital and was not able to attend Wednesday’s meeting, according to Alton Stevens, an attorney who said he was representing him.
Stevens said Karter was amenable to installing security cameras, but that hiring security guards would cost the business $20,000 to $30,000 a year. Karter recently put a sprinkler system in the bar at a cost of about $40,000 and had put about $10,000 of his money into the nightclub to keep it going because business is not great right now.
Thomas said the city was concerned about the number of calls to police that the Bob-In generates — more than 100 calls in the past year.
However, Stevens said the number of calls actually has gone down in the last four years — from 184 calls in 2008 to 104 in 2012.
He said Karter also has been proactive in trying to alleviate problems outside his bar after closing time, when fights break out and spectators often call police. Karter says only a few calls to police are generated from within the bar.
Karter, Stevens said, has done several things to combat the problem and the preventative measures should be given time to work. Karter put a notice up in his bar saying people who cause problems will be barred from the business, he has barred nine people for life from his bar, he sends employees outside at closing time on weekends to monitor activity, and he has been calling taxi companies 10 minutes before closing time to be ready for a lot of people needing rides, Stevens said.
“It seems to me it wouldn’t hurt to allow time to see if it works before imposing something costly,” he said.
Thomas initially argued that he should be entitled to vote on the special amusement permit, saying that while he books music events for Mainely Brews, a downtown bar, he has “no financial stake in what happens there.”
Councilors John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, and Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said they did not think it right to single out one bar owner and make him abide by costly conditions.
“To put it all on Gubby Karter’s shoulder, I don’t know if it’s fair,” O’Donnell, an attorney, said.
Sincyr said the Bob-In tends to get customers who have been at other bars in town, and some are already intoxicated when they arrive. The bar has been working to keep unruly people out.
“We’ve gotten rid of the trouble makers,” she said.
Thomas said a council would be irresponsible to ignore problems downtown and said he was not targeting Karter, whom he likes.
“He’s bought me more than one drink at the Bob-In, so it’s not a personal (issue),” he said.
Police Chief Joseph Massey last month told councilors the Bob-In generates more calls than any other downtown business. From Jan. 1 to Dec. 19, 2012, police received 109 calls from the Bob-In, 15 from You Know Whose Pub, 20 from Mainely Brews and 26 from the Silver Street Tavern, he said.
Stevens said Wednesday that if the city makes it so bars don’t want to call police, that could make the problem worse.
“I don’t think that’s the type of situation you want to create, but I think that’s what you’re doing,” he said.
Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, was absent from the meeting. Thomas, Winslow and Councilor Michael Owens voted for Thomas for the chairman’s position; Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, O’Donnell and Rancourt-Thomas voted to re-elect Stubbert. Heck broke the tie in favor of Thomas after City Solicitor William Lee said the city charter allows a mayor to break a tie in that situation.
Lee stipulated that if the full council decides to vote again on the chairmanship, it may.
Amy Calder — 861-9247