Confronted with a passionate, standing-room-only crowd on March 21, the East Hampton Town Board wisely took a step back from proposed changes to how it issues music permits to local bars and restaurants.
Although board members stressed their intentions were good, some of the proposed changes could have unintended negative consequences. One of them would make it possible for a business to lose the right to present live music if it were convicted of two code violations in a three-year period. Critics say that is too few a number, and they argue the wording is too vague and could result in a business losing its live music permit for a totally unrelated — and minor — zoning offense.
Even though the updated version is less strict than the law that is currently on the books, which allows the town clerk to deny a permit to an establishment that has been ticketed — but not necessarily convicted — three times in a single year, it needs a closer look to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
The updated law would also create an appeals committee to hear the cases of businesses that believe their permits have been unfairly revoked. Although on the face of it, the notion of an appeals committee sounds good, the idea that such a committee be made up of the town police chief, the head of code enforcement, and the fire marshal is a non-starter. Those charged with enforcing the law should not be empowered with adjudicating it as well.
Because businesses change hands so quickly, it is understandable the town board wants music permits to be renewed each year, so, at a minimum, the town does not have to waste valuable time trying to hunt down owners should a problem arise. But if it does move ahead in this regard, it would be wise to make it a relatively painless and inexpensive process for those businesses that have good track records of acting within the law.
It’s clear by the conciliatory tone it took that the board knew it hit a nerve with this proposed legislation. Now it has the opportunity to make things right by asking those who would be affected by it to sit down at the table to help it frame a fair and reasonable compromise.