There are a lot of rules and regulations in the City of Milwaukee that I think are stupid, confusing or useless.
Parking checkers handing out tickets like Christmas candy making lots of people wary of going and parking Downtown. Those parking meters with the numbered spaces so you may have to walk an entire block in the wrong direction to pay for the privilege of parking Downtown. The fact that strippers in the city have to wear Band-Aids over their nipples.
But for laws that not only make little sense but also are a green light for corruption attempts, nothing beats the way the city hands out liquor licenses.
After you cut through all the gobbledygook and bureaucratic language what it comes down to is that the alderman in whose district the licensed establishment will be located has total power over whether the license is granted or not. If your alderman is opposed, you might as well find another way to make a living. Selling liquor or operating a bar is out.
Let's first deal with the question of why we have to hand out liquor licenses at all.
I can understand a driver's license. I guess I can even understand fishing and hunting licenses. I can understand a license to run a daycare center.
But a license to sell a perfectly legal product that isn't going to hurt anyone? Come on here.
Sure, there are people who abuse alcohol, but denying some enterprising businessman a license to sell alcohol won't do anything to stop that. Sure, there are bars and taverns that cause problems in neighborhoods, but that can easily be handled by letting everyone know that the city can shut them down if it's too bad.
So what if an aldermanic district has too many bars? Market forces will weed out the ones that should go out of business. We don't need to control that growth with license largess.
We are supposed to have an entrepreneurial country here. We are supposed to make it easier for people to start and grow businesses. Everyone wants to get rid of stupid regulations that make it tougher on small business operators.
Now, the second part of the problem. The invitation to corrupt.
I'm not naming names here, but I have known aldermen who have had their hands out for a little extra in order to grease approval of liquor licenses. Sometimes they get caught, sometimes they don't.
But giving what's called "aldermanic privilege" in the granting of liquor licenses automatically makes the aldermen a target of people who have have slightly shady ethics. There are lawyers, for example, who have built careers by claiming to have special influence over certain aldermen.
Just go take a look sometime at the campaign contribution reports of some aldermen and figure out how many of the contributors are holders of licenses in the district. If you don't contribute, sometimes you may have problems.
That, of course is perfectly legal, even if it smells a little like extortion.
But the recent revelation by former Ald. James Witkowiak, that he got an envelope with $2,500 in cash inside from someone who wanted a license, just goes to illustrate the point in a couple of ways. Witkowiak, by the way, notified the FBI immediately.
One is that it happened. It's not the first time and it won't be the last.
The other is how absolutely outraged some other aldermen were when they learned of the attempted bribe. Oh, my Lord, how could this have happened, they seemed to say.
This license business is just full of hypocrisy, temptation and anti-business development rigor. We'd be a lot better off letting people get about their business. If it proves to be a problem, then take action. But preventing the operations without any good reason just seems like a business the Common Council should get out of.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.