Highland Park, News

Highland Park’s liquor-license debate continues. City loosens regulations, but elected-official clause remains

Highland Park City Council members remain at odds over a provision in the city’s liquor code that’s brewed up months of heated discourse, including the potential resignation of one elected official.

City councilmembers during their Wednesday, April 10 meeting approved an ordinance amending multiple sections of Highland Park’s municipal code related to liquor licenses; however, the approved ordinance did not alter the clause that restricts an elected official from holding a liquor license. 

The amendments green-lighted by the council relate to sections of the code on hours of operation, beer keg registration and delivery of cocktails, according to city documents. 

Revisions also include updates to liquor license classifications as well as the creation of new ones, city officials detailed at the meeting. The amendments expand uses within the city where liquor licenses can be applicable while increasing businesses that are able to obtain a specific classification of a liquor license. 

Although the item originally appeared for approval as part of an omnibus vote consideration, deliberation among the board intensified after Councilmember Annette Lidawer pulled it for further discussion. 

Lidawer said the council needs to view the ordinance with a “big-picture” perspective and that although it will increase opportunities for businesses, it will also bring in a new class of liquor license holders who will all still be subject to the section of the town’s code that prohibits permit holders from serving on the council. 

That provision has been at the forefront of council proceedings since late January, and the City Council voted against altering it in mid-February when a proposed motion failed to obtain a majority of the council’s support.

The immediate future of Jeff Hoobler’s status as a city councilmember has hung in the balance since. Hoobler, who is the well-known co-owner of Highland Park’s Ravinia Brewing Company, faces a decision between his status on the council and the fate of his business’s liquor license, unless the clause is changed.

Hoobler, who was elected to the City Council in 2023 and was the election’s top vote-getter among five candidates, announced his intention to resign from the council in mid-March, as reported by The Record. 

Lidawer described consideration of the April 10 ordinance as a “balance of the expansion of business with the further muffling of voices,” adding that she finds that premise “very disturbing.” 

“We aren’t usually given the opportunity to correct a wrong, and I see this as a wrong,” Lidawer said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but it enables us to correct it in something that is long overdue.”

Prior to concluding her remarks, Lidawer motioned to table the council’s consideration of the amendments until their April 24 meeting so that officials can holistically review the entire section of the city’s code related to liquor licenses, which would include a possible reconsideration of amending the tightly debated provision. 

Her motion failed by a 4-2 vote as Councilmember Andrés Tapia joined in support while Mayor Nancy Rotering and councilmembers Anthony Blumberg, Kim Stone and Yumi Ross were in dissent. The ordinance passed on April 10 passed 4-2 along the same lines, with Tapia and Lidawer voting against. 

Tapia stated that he believed the ordinance on the docket was not good, thoughtful legislation as it expands the eligible pool of potential liquor license holders but simultaneously takes away their ability to run for local office. 

“This issue, this ordinance that has been in contention, is at the heart of this set of legislative things that we’re considering and it seems that we’re at cross currents,” he said. 

“On the one hand, we’re making things more streamlined, more open, more business friendly, more liberalized and easier to do. But at the same time, we keep holding onto something that many of us believe is archaic and not relevant.” 

Tapia later added that the council should be working to “undo the image that (Highland Park) is not a business-friendly city,” noting that holding onto to the contested provision is hurting their own cause. 

“Given how much we are prioritizing economic development, we need to attract businesses,” he said. “You don’t prosper as a city if you only attract your residents. We want something wonderful for our residents but we only prosper if we attract visitors and other businesses to come here.” 

During discussions, City Manager Ghida Neukirch told the council that two Highland Park businesses were awaiting approval of the ordinance so they could move forward with planned shifts in their operations. 

Blumberg noted the urgency of the matter for those businesses as the reasons for his support voting on April 10. 

“I’m aware that there are several businesses who are waiting for us to pass and to allow additional types of liquor licenses so that they can expand their businesses,” he said. “ … Delaying this for something that isn’t actually a part of this motion is not something that I would support.” 

The amendments that ultimately received approval on April 10 were informally agreed upon during a Committee of the Whole session on Jan. 29 of this year, according to city documents. 

Neukirch said during the council’s Feb. 12 meeting that a potential conflict was brought to her attention following the Jan. 29 session where officials discussed the several proposed modifications to the city’s liquor code, as reported by The Record.

Hoobler, a liquor license holder through Ravinia Brewing, did not recuse himself from those discussions. 

The code provision that prohibits an elected official from being issued a liquor license was then “swiftly” brought to the attention of city officials and the council voted to uphold it on Feb. 12.

Hoobler’s resignation is not official, Mayor says

In Hoobler’s self-titled resignation letter, which he posted to Facebook on March 18, he says he spoke with an agent with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission on Feb. 29 and had since been taking a leave of absence from the council that will last until his resignation date of April 30.

In the post, Hoobler says advice from his attorneys prompted his resignation. He also stated that his resignation is effective subsequent to the council’s April 24 meeting, where he said “there could be an opportunity for the City Council to vote to amend Highland Park’s local ordinance Section 119.320 to permit liquor license holders to hold elected office and to sit on the city council.”

Rotering acknowledged Hoobler’s statement intending his resignation after Lidawer said that she believed there was an urgency to reconsider the provision because of the stated April 30 resignation date. 

According to Rotering, there is no official letter of resignation from Hoobler and there is “nothing that says that anything has to be decided by April 30.” 

“He has issued a statement,” Rotering said. “It is not a letter of resignation as is required under the law. He has created this time sensitivity; there is nothing that says he needs to leave this council by April 30.” 

Hoobler’s letter is not sufficient under state law, the city’s corporation counsel confirmed at the meeting. Under state law, there is no valid resignation from a city council until a notarized letter has been sent to the mayor, Rotering said. 

“As far as this body is concerned, there is no time sensitivity and there is no letter of resignation,” Rotering said.  

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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