« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Bad bar, good ruling

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I.C. Willy’s was a lousy bar and a bad neighbor on Wausau’s east side. Wausau’s city council was right to not renew their liquor license. And today the city’s decision was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The court ruled that the city acted appropriately. But that wasn’t the issue the court was asked to clarify.

The Supreme Court’s review focused on what’s supposed to happen when one of these licensing cases is appealed into the court system. Should the hearing record, testimony and evidence that the city licensing board heard be the starting point for the courts? Or should the court start the process over again from scratch (a ‘de novo’ review)? The court’s unanimous decision is that the city’s groundwork in the case counts and doesn’t just get swept aside when an appeal is filed.

The case against I.C. Willy’s was overwhelming. Neighbors made repeated complaints. Police said the bar was uncooperative. The ‘Girls Gone Wild’ bus was invited to the parking lot, and the nudity that followed spread into the open and the bar. The owners proposed their own ‘improvement plan’ which the city agreed to. It wasn’t followed.

The only interesting new ground that I.C. Willy’s could have followed in court was the zoning of their property. It’s zoned light-industrial. People who live in or near a light-industrial zone can’t expect the same level of quiet as people in a residential neighborhood. Ultimately this argument would have failed too. There’s a difference between the noise from a stereo sound system and the noise of machinery, trucks, etc. One has a volume knob – the others don’t.

The case of I.C. Willy’s is mystifying to me. Just like a radio station is nothing without its broadcast license, a bar is nothing without its liquor license. Every time the police are called or neighbors complain, a record is being kept. Being accommodating defuses almost all of these situations. Being defiant can put you out of business.

Chris Conley