Independence gets tough on business violators

01/28/2014 3:11 PM

01/28/2014 3:11 PM

Independence officials are cracking down on businesses they believe to be blighting influences by making it easier to suspend or revoke their licenses to operate.

“Any business, now or in the future, had better be an asset, or you’re not welcome here,” said Councilman Curt Dougherty, who pushed for the administrative changes, which take effect Saturday.

Under the new policy, said Dougherty and City Manager Robert Heacock, the city can more readily go after convenience and other stores that sell synthetic marijuana substitutes or drug paraphernalia, for instance.

The policy, like one recently adopted in Kansas City, also could be enforced against businesses that are havens for prostitution or have repeated health-code violations.

Independence officials say the new procedures will get into the pockets of the business owners. Before, officers simply arrested clerks at the stores or motels.

No new ordinance or vote of the City Council was necessary to enable the changes, Heacock said.

“We reviewed and found that the ordinances on the books already give us broad authority to add new businesses that were associated with illegal actions or that negatively impact public safety,” Heacock said. “It’s under that authority that the city has been addressing liquor licenses for a while.”

If a police officer, health inspector or other city official observes a suspected law violation, he or she is to notify the city license officer, providing details that might include a forensic test of a suspected illicit substance. The license official may then schedule an administrative hearing on the matter.

The new policy spells out time frames for notifying the business about the hearing and allows the owner to tell his or her side of the story.

The license officer then has 10 business days to make a decision. Penalties could range from a brief suspension to revocation of the business’s operating license. Owners could appeal a decision to the full City Council.

Heacock said Independence’s new procedures were modeled after ordinance changes enacted by the Kansas City Council in January 2013.

Jim Ready, manager of Kansas City’s Regulated Industries Division, said that in the past year, his department has pursued and obtained a handful of business-license suspensions for illicit-substance sales under the new policy.

The new city procedures, augmented by an areawide led by federal authorities last October against more than 40 businesses suspected of selling synthetic marijuana, have had an impact, Ready said.

“We saw everything dry up.”

Dougherty hopes the same thing will happen in Independence.

“The message to criminals is the buck stops here,” Dougherty said. “The party is over. Homey, don’t play that game.”

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