Public hearings are a necessary evil for participants in the licensed beverage markets. Being prepared for a public hearing is the best way to ensure it will go the way you hope.
Let’s consider the rule of Howard County, MD for a moment, since that is where I am sitting right now. These rules require that hearings be held on applications for a new license, a transfer, an extension of the premises, a change in resident agent, or a change in the class of license. Let’s say you have applied for a liquor license in this jurisdiction. What might you expect at your public hearing?
We’ve already discussed the residency requirements of applicants, the avoidance of naming convicted felons on your application, and special requirements related to the type of business entity you have formed. You have presumably named the class of license you wish to hold and described your business and the premises accurately and paid your fee. Now the local gentry gets to ask you whatever they want in order to convince themselves that you are worthy of the license you are seeking.
For example, the rules provide that the Board has to determine that you are “of good character”. Well, naturally, we all have slightly different ideas about what disqualifies someone in this regard. In part, you will meet this requirement by having one of the applicants include a petition in support signed by at least three residents who are registered voters within the district where your business is located and know you personally. I’d recommend you make sure none of these folks have any sort of beef with the Board or any of its members, and that they don’t have unsavory public profiles in any way.
The rules also provide that the operation of your business can’t “unduly disturb the peace and safety of residents in the neighborhood in which the business is to be located”. You will need to be prepared to convince the Board that your business will not cause such a problem, particularly if there are residents who show up at your hearing to oppose your license being granted. How can you do this?
It may not be a bad idea to reduce your business plan and practice writing and submit it as an attachment to your application, or if not, at least prepare yourself to recite its content at your hearing. Your plan needs to include education on compliance with the regulations, such as not selling to underaged purchasers, not allowing people to be clearly intoxicated on your premises, offering transportation to people who shouldn’t be driving, not allowing disorder in your location such as fighting, etc.
In any event, you need to do what you say you are going to do at your public hearing because you will be on record as having made the statements you made. Is it OK to deviate from your plan? I think if changes are justified, but you have to be careful.
For more information on this topic, please contact Scott Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Scott Lloyd is a registered patent attorney who specializes in intellectual property counseling and commercialization work. He has served as a technology commercialization specialist and advisor to companies in a diverse array of markets, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and beverage, specialty chemicals, technology, and engineering. In addition, Mr. Lloyd spent ten years as in-house general counsel to small and mid-sized companies, where he managed corporate matters and resolved commercial disputes in addition to intellectual property strategy, and now serves in the same capacity for entrepreneurial clients. He serves as counsel to small and mid-sized business owners seeking to implement growth strategies and succession plans.
While in house, Mr. Lloyd has also contributed to the successful formation of international affiliates of domestic businesses as well as a $400,000,000 business acquisition.
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