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Lit Up Over Smoke Shops

The recent influx of tobacco shops in South Beloit has raised some concerns among South Beloit City Council members.

Monday, council members discussed options available to the city in regulating the number of tobacco shops and what they sell.

Once concern voiced by council members was that some tobacco shops sell items that can be used with illegal drugs or as substitutes for illegal drugs. The concern was that some tobacco pipes seem designed for marijuana or hashish smoking cigarettes and some may sell items that contain synthetic marijuana.

Council member John LaMendola said he is aware that many businesses have their products labeled “for tobacco use only,” but that doesn’t change the fact that some products are specifically designed for illegal drug use.

“I just think we need to do something about it,” he said. “A crack pipe is a crack pipe is a crack pipe. A bong is a bong is a bong.”

There has been growth in the number of tobacco shops opening in South Beloit, especially since the taxes on tobacco products are much higher in Wisconsin. Many Wisconsin residents cross the state line to get a price break on cigarettes for sale and tobacco products. LaMendola said there are about five tobacco shops in South Beloit that he knows of.

The council discussed the possibility of limiting the number of licenses issued for tobacco shops. However, City Attorney Roxanne Sosnowski said crafting an ordinance to limit the number of tobacco shop licenses would be in a gray area of the law and may not withstand a legal challenge.

Mayor Michael Duffy asked if the city could increase the license fee for tobacco shops as a way to limit the number of shops. Sosnowski said that would be allowed under the law.

“I don’t want to run any businesses out, but I think there are some businesses that are detrimental to the community,” Duffy said.

The council voted to lay over the discussion and agreed to discuss it further at a future meeting.

In other business, the council approved hiring Sosnowski’s law firm of Barrick Switzer Long Balsley and Van Evera to represent the city in future labor negotiations.

Charlotte LeClercq is the attorney who will head labor negotiations while Sosnowski may be called on to handle union grievances.

Jill Leka of the law firm of Clark Baird Smith based in Rosemont, Ill., had been heading labor negotiations for the city. She will continue the labor negotiations with the city’s Street and Sewer Department union members, which already has started.

LaClercq will handle negotiations with the city’s police officers union, which is the Fraternal Order of Police, and the police sergeants union, which is the Illinois Council of Police (ICOPs). Both contracts expired June 30. Also, an Illinois Labor Relations Board election will be held July 27 to determine if the South Beloit police officers want to be represented by ICOPs instead of the Fraternal Order of Police. If they did, all city unions would be represented by ICOPs.

The council also discussed doing criminal background checks on new employees for the city. The issue came up when Fire Chief Ken Morse proposed hiring two volunteer/paid-on-call firefighters. He said he does a criminal background check with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department on new hires who are part-time, but that only extends to criminal histories in the county.

Duffy said he would like to see a more extensive criminal background check for all new employees, which may include running fingerprints on new hires.

The council decided to hold off on hiring any new employees until a policy can be crafted on criminal background checks so it is uniform throughout all departments.

The council also approved buying three laptop computers and two desktop computers for city council members’ use.

Sosnowski noted that any e-mail communications between council members are subject to Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. Council member Alice Schoonover said she and other council members would be more comfortable if e-mails and city documents would not be on her personal computer so all city documents and communications would be centralized. The cost for the computers was $4,794.59.

Also, the council agreed to give $5,000 from hotel/motel tax funds to the South Beloit Fire Department for its annual corn boil, which is scheduled for Aug. 27.




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