Editorial: How to make all rules meaningless

By on July 14, 2011

If a government body chooses which rules and laws to enforce, that in effect makes all rules and laws meaningless. Selective enforcement means that any group of representatives can pick and choose what the laws are at their whim, and the public will never know for certain what is and is not allowed.

Thankfully, a suggestion made by Elburn Village Administrator Erin Willrett at Monday’s special Village Board meeting to do just that was ignored by those in attendance, including the members of the Village Board.

While her suggestion may “only” have pertained to a liquor license ruling, and while it may “only” be in a small town dealing with a situation that would only occur one time, the fact that a village administrator would suggest to selectively enforce an ordinance prior to it being passed should be distressing to the residents in Elburn.

The issue dealt with liquor licenses and how they apply to establishments that allow for sales and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages outside. One tavern in town, Schmidt’s Towne Pub, wanted to add an outdoor beer garden with outdoor alcohol sales, and the Village Board’s concern was how a new type of liquor license to govern that would impact another tavern, Knuckleheads, which already allows outdoor consumption.

Ultimately, the solution was simple; eliminate the word “consumption” from the new license, and Schmidt’s can have its outdoor beer garden and Knuckleheads can continue to operate as it has done for years.

Yet, during that discussion and before the solution was reached, Willrett suggested that the board could pass an ordinance that would, as written, prohibit Knuckleheads from allowing its patrons to consume their drinks in the outdoor area unless it added fencing and met other requirements. However, her suggestion was also for the board to simply ignore the full enforcement of the ordinance.

“There is always the option for the village to not enforce an ordinance,” she said to the board.

Thankfully, her suggestion was met with silence, and the conversation moved on to relevant matters—meaning, they discussed how they could adjust the wording to allow for both businesses to operate within the scope of local laws and regulations.

It was a brief moment dealing with a relatively minor adjustment to a small town’s liquor laws. In the bigger picture and on the surface, it is not a big deal.

Yet, the reason why we are concerned enough to use this space to write about it, is that a village administrator should never suggest to a board that a viable option is to pass a new ordinance with the intention of selectively enforcing it.

The village administrator is a highly paid position, and the person holding that title should be considered a “go-to” person, providing expertise and insight during Village Board discussions, and offering valuable advice to help the board arrive at decisions.

Thankfully, in this case, the board ignored that advice, because if the board had pursued the suggestion to selectively enforce the ordinance, they would have set a precedent making all village ordinances meaningless.