Earlier this week, your Knoxville Beer Board met for the first time in 2020. This was also the first time that I served as chair. I truly appreciate Vice Mayor McKenzie nominating me for this position and for the approval of my colleagues on City Council to take up this role.
The responsibility of our Beer Board can be generally divided into two areas: customer service and enforcement. In the first area of focus, customer service, Beer Board and the staff in the business tax office assist the public with the application process and familiarize applicants with expectations associated with issuing permits. Last week, I conducted a walkthrough and mock application, as if I were seeking a beer permit. Mark Byrd of the Business Tax Division is on the customer service front lines and skillfully guided me through the process. Mark and Revenue Administrator, Donna Dyer, are committed to assisting applicants throughout the permit process.
The second area of focus is enforcement. The Beer Board works with KPD to reduce the number of establishments serving underage customers. I spoke with Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition, who showed me a 2018 Knox County Middle School Survey revealing that approximately one in five middle school students in our community have tried alcohol more than a few sips (see: 2018 Knox County Middle School Youth Behavior Study.) It has been and will remain a top priority of the Beer Board to reduce the number of establishments that serve underage customers by ensuring that permit holders have plans in place to prevent these sales in the first place.
“We all play a role in preventing underage drinking, whether we are parents, educators, neighbors, policy makers or business owners. By sharing a consistent message and doing our part to reduce access to alcohol, we can drive down rates of alcohol use by our youth and make our community healthier and safer for all of us,” – Karen Pershing, Executive Director, Metro Drug Coalition
When starting a new role, I believe in taking an inventory of where you are and then determine where you want to go. Prior to our meeting, there were 794 active beer permits in Knoxville. From the beginning of 2018 through the end of 2019, there were 194 approved applications. The number of applicants appearing before the Beer Board increased by almost 16% from 114 in 2018 to 135 in 2019. In the past two years KPD conducted 9 compliance checks visiting 185 establishments of which 34 sold to underage customers in 2018 and 26 in 2019. That’s a failure rate of 18% in 2018, which decreased to 14% in 2019.
Permit holders who fail their compliance check, have no fine for a first offense if they submit a remedial plan detailing how they will prevent underage service in the future. If they fail to submit a plan, the offender will go to a hearing and receive a $250 fine. A second offense will result in a hearing where suspension or revocation can occur as well as a $500 fine (see here for link to current penalties). In our discussion, Beer Board members expressed interest in learning the consequences for failing a compliance check in other local jurisdictions. My preliminary research into this found that in Knox County, failure of a compliance check yields $1,000 in a first offense.
To help stop underage service, both preceding Beer Boards had a focus on server compliance plans. This is a plan that lays out how a business will prevent underage beer sales as well as overserving customers. The requirement was added to beer permit applications in 2017. Then in 2018, the Beer Board passed guidelines I authored for server compliance plans to be added to the beer permit application (see guidelines). In 2018 only 5.2% of those applicants appearing before Beer Board didn’t have a server compliance plan in their application at the time they appeared at Beer Board. That number dropped to 4.4% in 2019. We are making progress as evidenced by the increase in plans being submitted as well as the 4% drop in establishments that sold to an underage informant in 2019 versus 2018. Preventing underage sales is certainly not a new goal. However, we as public servants should constantly seek to improve and work to address challenges.
Beer Board had a thoughtful discussion at the end of our meeting reviewing these statistics as well as our present procedure. From that discussion it is clear that the members would like to consider the following goals for 2020.
- Ensuring that 100% of applicants produce a server compliance plan before their Beer Board appearance.
- Ensuring that penalties are appropriate to facilitate further reductions in underage sales.
- Reviewing the number of compliance checks to see if recommending an increase to KPD would be helpful to ensure better performance in compliance checks.
We want to be data driven and proactive as a Board, so I look forward to upcoming reports allowing future actions to consider as well as hearing further from my colleagues on these important issues.