Tensions were high during a meeting of Waterloo’s liquor advisory committee Thursday night at City Hall.
This committee consists of aldermen Russ Row Jr. and Jim Trantham and city attorney Natalie Steppig, as appointed by Waterloo Mayor Pro-Tem Clyde Heller, to review and make recommendations for liquor licenses in Waterloo that come due June 30.
The decision for renewal or non-renewal ultimately lies in Heller’s lap.
“I’m sorry I have to sit with the final authority, but somebody does,” Heller said, adding the liquor license rules are covered under Chapter 21 of the municipal code.
Heller, a longtime alderman, is filling in as mayor while Mayor Tom Smith continues to recover from a stroke suffered late last month. The mayor serves as the city’s liquor commissioner.
In attendance were attorneys Jack Strellis and Amanda Chase, representing Uncle John’s RRR Bar at 141 S. Main Street.
RRR Bar was among 11 businesses in Waterloo applying for liquor license renewal as of Thursday. Steppig said several other renewal requests were still coming in ahead of the June 30 deadline and will be considered as well.
Steppig said at the meeting that RRR Bar and/or owner-operators James and Jered Gallagher are facing one criminal misdemeanor, 11 ordinance violations (mostly noise related) and three state liquor infractions overall, resulting in the mayor pro-tem and liquor advisory committee having to take a hard look at whether to renew this license.
Chase updated the Republic-Times on Tuesday that the criminal misdemeanor mentioned above against Jered Gallagher – for possession of drug paraphernalia – will not be prosecuted by the state’s attorney due to only a trace amount of marijuana found in a pipe in his possession during that incident.
Per a June 6 ordinance committee meeting, the city is also looking into revamping its noise ordinance as a result of recent incidents at the bar – including multiple violations issued Monday, May 23, after nearby businesses and even the courthouse reported disruptions due to loud music.
“There are a lot of things going on right now revolving around this that need to be addressed for past practice so that we can feel insulated in the future,” Steppig said at the meeting.
“We acknowledge problems that have existed and remedies are being put in place,” Strellis told the committee Thursday, further saying “controls” have been put in place on the individuals responsible for this behavior by the attorneys and other investors in the operation.
Strellis also referenced “targeted enforcement” of RRR over the years that may have resulted in “overreactions” by the Gallaghers as a response.
This drew an adamant rebuke from Trantham, who said the tavern has “never been targeted” and police officers should not have had to endure the slurs and disrespect they have faced.
“These officers are doing their job,” said Trantham, Waterloo’s former police chief. “These officers do not have to put up with this.”
Alderman Stan Darter chimed in by asking how supposed controls implemented now can account for past behavior.
“If we’re looking for the future, the only thing we can do is look to the past,” he said.
Darter added there’s been “irreparable harm” caused to other downtown Waterloo bar owners and businesses due to these past actions at RRR Bar.
“We promote downtown as a friendly, family type service and occasionally our events are ruined,” Darter said. “I’m not sure how you assess damages for all the problems up to this point.”
Heller asked Strellis what he thought an adequate punishment should be for his clients’ past conduct in 2021 and 2022.
Strellis replied that they should pay all associated fines for citations issued while adding later that “something that’s constructive” to generate interest and enhance Waterloo’s presence on RRR Bar’s part could also be something to shoot for.
“I’m trying to reach a plateau of a clean slate, not to say that police officers haven’t gone through a lot of disrespect in the past,” Strellis said.
“That’s a hard one to overcome right there,” Heller countered.
Alderman Steve Notheisen claimed at the meeting that the Gallaghers “harassed the citation sergeant to the point where he almost had a nervous breakdown because they kept campaigning for him to be fired.”
This sergeant wasn’t named at the meeting, but James Gallagher was photographed walking around the courthouse May 23 with a sign calling for the firing of Waterloo Police Department Sgt. Eric Zaber.
Notheisen said a bench trial scheduled for June 2 regarding prior citations against James Gallagher and others associated with RRR Bar had to be rescheduled because Zaber did not show up to court.
“So, not only are they disrespectful to the law enforcement, they were harassing a witness,” Notheisen said. “I found that to be pretty disgusting.”
Notheisen added that “every one of the aldermen wanted to see (RRR’s license)” taken away” following the recent incidents.
“They have royally aggravated the community,” he said.
Row said he’d received a number of calls from constituents who were concerned about the recent behavior.
“A bar owner told me it makes everyone look bad,” Row said. “So, it’s a real tough thing.”
Trantham concluded by saying his concern as an alderman “is if we have problems with another bar, we’re gonna have to give them a lot of leeway now.”
“We let it go too long,” Trantham added. “We kept trying to work through the problem and for whatever reason, we thought maybe we could work with these people and they’d be reasonable. They don’t know what reasonable is, because you give them an inch and they’ll take three miles. They’ve proven that.”
In addition to renewal or non-renewal of a liquor license, the mayor pro-tem could opt to suspend a license up to 30 days as a condition of renewal.
If a license is not renewed, as a first infraction, Steppig said the tavern in question has 20 days to appeal that decision – during which it can remain in business. An appeals decision must come within 30 days after the appeal is filed.
Strellis and Chase asked for the committee to keep the dialogue open when considering its recommendation.
“We’re asking that Amanda and my efforts to address the issues in the future should be given some consideration,” Strellis said.
“There is a lot more that we can do, and would like to do, with our clients,” Chase added.
Steppig said the committee will “discuss whether or not (it’s) willing to take negotiating measures” in this decision process.