|photo by Keegan Hamilton|
East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks
said Friday that the city's bars, liquor stores and nightclubs will continue to serve alcohol until the current closing time, despite criticism.
Parks doubles as East St. Louis' liquor commissioner and said nightclubs will remain open until 6 a.m.
and package liquor stores until 3 a.m.
The decision comes despite pressure from the East St. Louis City Council, St. Clair County law enforcement officials, and many East St. Louis residents to restrict the hours of operation for the sake of public safety.
Parks says he made the announcement last week at a meeting of the city's 70 liquor license holders.
He says taxes generated by the bars and clubs, many of which are dependent on crowds that arrive after the St. Louis bars close at 1:30 and 3 a.m., help fund fire and police service. Last week, the city announced that budget shortfalls
will force it to lay off seventeen city jobs, including five policemen and five firefighters.
"The most important factor in this decision is that I don't believe in restricting the opportunities for revenue
Parks says. "I believe in people having an opportunity to be open
whenever they would like to be open as long as they can be open
The hours of East St. Louis' nightclubs have been a lightning rod in the metro east for more than a month, after March 19 press conference
in which numerous east side leaders and police officials demanded that the mayor close the clubs down earlier. The officials cited a statistic from the Illinois State Police saying that fifteen homicides in the past four years have been directly related to the city's nightclubs.
The issue heated up again on April 3, just days after Parks' office was raided by the FBI
as part of an investigation of "unlawful solicitation of money regarding liquor licenses."
The mayor called an "emergency town hall meeting
" and asked for input from East St. Louis citizens on whether the liquor-selling establishments should close earlier. Many residents spoke out against the city's liquor policies while a handful defended the clubs as part of tradition of East St. Louis nightlife and a contributor to the city's coffers.
Parks maintains that it is unfair and incorrect to blame the bars and clubs for all of the city's troubles.
"The nightclubs and taverns and bars and beer gardens and liquor stores themselves are not the problem when it comes to violence in our city," Parks says. "The source of the violence is the drugs
that people are trying to deal and gangs. It has nothing to do with clubs and liquor-selling establishments."
Parks said the only changes to the current regulations will be that liquor-selling establishments will be required to post signs inside and outside that state that "No weapons are allowed on these premises except by properly licensed persons."
He also said he that he instructed liquor license holders to increase their lighting near entrances and in the parking lot and to install security cameras. However, he admitted that the changes, "are not actual laws but strong, strong suggestions from the liquor commissioner."