NEWPORT CITY – The future of Griff’s Pub remains up in the air.
The city council, during a special meeting Wednesday, said it will not renew the pub’s beer and wine license until after a state hearing scheduled for May 11 where the Vermont Department of Liquor Control will determine the fate of the pub’s liquor license.
The city council renews beer and wine licenses annually and the state renews liquor licenses. Normally, this is a smooth process. However, this year the council and state are concerned about incidents that occurred at the popular establishment, specifically an alleged sexual assault that took place in a restroom late last year, which involved some of the pub’s staff. The people in question were not regular employees and have since been fired.
Attorney Brooke Dingledine, who represents pub owners Dan and Nancy Griffith, met with the city council Monday, April 16.
City Attorney Bill Davies, who was on vacation at the time, met with the city council Wednesday. During that meeting, Davies reminded council members that it’s up to them to take action they deem appropriate to protect and preserve the public health, safety and welfare.
There is a difference between licensing and relicensing as compared to revocation and suspension, said Davies, who went on to explain there is due process to the licensee in a revocation and suspension proceeding that differs from when deciding to issue new licenses or renewing a license.
Davies, who learned about the incidents from local newspaper reports, contacted City Manager John Ward Jr. and said the alleged incidents are serious.
“My recommendation to the council is the license not be renewed,” said Davies, who added a license to sell alcohol is not a right. “Given the standard you have, protecting the public health, safety and welfare of all the individuals in the City of Newport, all you can do is look at what has happened in the recent past and there is grave concern.”
Davies said he understands the state is recommending revoking the license.
“The state is viewing this very seriously,” said Davies. He said his concerns are not so much that something happened, but the length of time the incident took place. “It wasn’t a situation where somebody snuck into the bathroom and something happened quickly. That’s something reasonable people might miss.”
Court records state that several people took videos of the alleged incident.
Davies, who is worried the city might be sued over something that happens at the pub, suggested to the council it impose conditions if it decides to renew the pub’s license. Davies encouraged the council to impose regulations for all such establishments, not just Griffs.
It might be hard for the city to micromanage the establishment, alderman Tim de la Bruere said.
Maggie Griffith, whose name appears on the liquor license along with those of her son and daughter-in-law, said that as a citizen of Newport, a school board member and former educator and administrator and mother of owner Dan Griffith, she is appalled about the action the council is considering.
She also said Dingledine has refuted every accusation. Inappropriate actions have taken place at other local bars, Griffith said.
“Why have you singled out Griff's pub?” Griffith asked the council. “Responsible people and their families go to Griff's to eat.”
Tourists have found the pub a clean, well run establishment and her friends have always felt comfortable there, said Griffith.
Police Chief J. Paul Duquette said he’s been after the council for years to have input on licenses. This year, it did, and he was aware of what happened at Griffs.
“That’s why I made the recommendation that I did, that the license not be renewed,” explained Duquette. “As the chief of police, I am responsible for the city’s well being and safety. The easiest way to stop a situation is not have it.”
Nancy Griffith said she feels most of the incidents that happened at the pub are something owners shouldn’t be responsible for and that the pub is her family’s livelihood.
The pub can continue to sell non-alcohol drink and food, even if the liquor license is not renewed, however the owners won't say whether or not they will still be open for business next week.
“It’s not an issue of putting them out of business, it’s an issue of restricting business,” said Davies.
“I don’t think this council is in the business of penalizing any business in Newport,” said Alderman Richard Baraw. “I think we’re here to help and support businesses. Make them function better if necessary.”