By Mark Carlisle
Glendale City Council will vote Tuesday on a process that will expedite the city’s process of approving liquor licenses for special events.
The new process, made possible by a state bill passed earlier this year, will authorize Budget and Finance Director Vicki Rios to approve or deny special event liquor licenses rather than having every request go before Council.
“I just think that the speed with which we could then expedite something will be much faster than it is now,” Ms. Rios said during the Tuesday, June 12 Council meeting.
Ms. Rios said that the current process of approving each license can take 45-60 days. The new process should take two to three weeks, she said. It would not go into effect until Aug. 2.
During a meeting earlier this month, council members directed city staff on what they would like the new process to look like. Council will vote on the resolution in its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council Chambers, 5850 W. Glendale Ave. In their discussion during the June 12 meeting, council members indicated a consensus to support the resolution.
The city will track how the new process is working and may make changes or even revert to the old process if the new process is not producing the desired results.
“Just because make a decision today, doesn’t mean the process can’t be modified,” City Manager Kevin Phelps said.
Special event liquor licenses are usually submitted by nonprofits looking to serve alcohol during fundraising events in the city. Ms. Rios said that while these events take place throughout the city, many occur around University of Phoenix Stadium and the Westgate Entertainment District, both in the Yucca District.
Currently, applications are reviewed by the city’s Development Services department, Glendale police and fire and the Finance department. Each application is then added to a Council agenda and voted on in a Council meeting. If passed, the application is then sent to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control for final approval.
Ms. Rios, Mayor Jerry Weiers, who took office in 2013, and Yucca District Councilwoman Joyce Clark, who has been on Council intermittently since 1992, each said they cannot remember a case when a special event liquor license was rejected.
The routine nature of the approvals was one reason city officials wanted to transition the process to an administrative function rather than a Council vote.
Vice Mayor Lauren Tolmachoff, who represents the Cholla District, said she thought these applications cross the line between policy and administrative work and didn’t think it was something the Council should need to vote on.
“I think the whole idea was to expedite the process as an administrative function of the city and that it’s really not necessary for a Council vote to do this anyway,” she said.
Although the vast majority of licenses are approved, some present challenges. Council members said most issues arise when groups submit applications late in the process, not allowing for the proper time.
In these situations, Ms. Rios said the city has expedited these claims in as few as 10 days. She hopes eleventh-hour applications can be processed even more quickly under the new process.
Any other issues that a city department might have with an application, that department works with the group to clear up the issue.
In the current process, the main thing that slowed applications down was waiting to get on the agenda of a Council meeting, which normally happen every two weeks. However, sometimes meetings are less frequent, namely during Council’s recess in July.
“If these organizations don’t plan ahead for their events that are happening in August and September, our hands become somewhat tied on what we can do administratively, and this would just ease that process greatly for those applicants,” Ms. Rios said.
In April, the state legislature signed HB 2334 into law, which amended Article 4 of the Arizona Revised Statutes on liquor licensing. It allowed the governing bodies of municipalities to designate a staffer to approve or deny special event liquor licenses rather than having the governing body vote on the applications.
Some cities have already changed their processes because the state board sent out a notification to cities and towns in April 2017 that, although the law was not yet passed, the state would not require Council votes on special event liquor licenses.
“We just either didn’t realize that or we didn’t pick up on this notification, but many cities have already been doing it this way,” Ms. Rios said.
Most nearby cities Glendale examined designated the city clerk to approve these licenses because the city clerk’s office normally operates licensing. In Glendale, licensing is run out of the Budget and Finance office, which is why staff recommended Ms. Rios be designated. Council had the option to choose another member of staff, but it did not.
If the resolution is approved this week, the new process would go into effect the same date HB 2334 goes into effect: Aug. 2, after the Council’s July recess.
Council members did not want to be cut out of the process completely.
Initially, Mayor Weiers suggested final approval come through his office after passing through Ms. Rios’ office, but other council members opposed.
Instead the Council settled on a process where Ms. Rios’ office would notify all council members, including the mayor, when an application is submitted so council members may review it and raise any concerns to the Budget and Finance department and work through the issue with staff. If the issue could not be worked out, Council could encourage Ms. Rios’ office to reject the application.
As some council members noted, such a rejection is not common.
“You have to offer Council some kind of mechanism to weigh in on the situation. So, I would simply suggest that Council’s voice be heard,” Ms. Clark said. “Even though we’ve never had a problem, we may never have a problem for eternity, but at least the mechanism is in place.”
City Attorney Michael Bailey worried such a review process would contend with the new process’ goal of speedier approvals.
“The challenge becomes if we’re going to continue to do notice, then wait for a response, we’re not solving the problem that we’ve actually set out to solve and that is to get the licenses out the door faster,” Mr. Bailey said.
The mayor suggested a time table, perhaps 48 hours or 72 hours, both for Ms. Rios’ office to notify Council after an application is submitted and for council members to bring up a concern to her office. If a concern is not voiced in that window, the application would proceed to approval.
However, the stipulation that the Budget and Finance office should notify council members about submitted applications was not included in the language of the resolution on the agenda for next Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Councilman Jamie Aldama, who represents the Ocotillo District, which includes downtown Glendale where many of these special events will likely be held said this change was a way for the city to provide better service.
“From 45 to 60 days to a potential two to three weeks? I’m all in,” he said. “I think it’s the appropriate thing to do, provides you an additional tool in your toolbox to provide better service to those who are visiting and want to do business here.”