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Tualatin council backs giving troubled bar second shot

The OLCC will make the final determination on the Wichita Pub's liquor license renewal
by: Jaime Valdez, TROUBLE SPOT? — Tualatin police records show that RJ’s Wichita Pub on Nyberg Road in Tualatin has the highest number of police calls of all the bars in the city.

TUALATIN - Members of the Tualatin City Council aren't willing to let a few years of police reports on everything from assaults to a public shooting close down a business.

On Monday night Police Chief Kent Barker gave his first-ever recommendation for the denial of a liquor license renewal.

Barker made it clear that his report and recommendation were not meant to be a personal slam against the owner and employees of RJ's Wichita Pub.

But in the chief's eyes, the small bar and restaurant on Nyberg Road has a track record of late-night fights in the parking lot, bar patrons leaving and driving drunk, thefts and, a few months ago, a shooting.

'I have a responsibility to the police department and to the community,' Barker said of his recommendation.

Despite Barker's concerns, the City Council agreed to recommend to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission that the pub's license be renewed. The council modified their decision with a suggestion that the pub's license come under review in three months.

Ultimately the OLCC will make the final determination as to whether the pub will receive a renewal for a one-year liquor license. But as Councilor Donna Maddux and OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott both noted, the OLCC rarely denies liquor license renewals.

Maddux noted that the council likely missed its only chance to make a strong statement against the behavior that goes on at the Wichita Pub.

A report compiled by the police department going back to 2005 showed that the Wichita Pub has consistently generated almost twice as many calls for service than any other bar in the city of Tualatin.

In 2005, the pub had 74 calls for service. In 2006 and 2007 it had 92 calls for service. And by Feb. 21 of this year, the pub had already had 17 calls for service.

And in the last three years, the pub has also been given 58 warnings from the OLCC on things ranging from permitting disorder to selling alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers.

Police first began to tally up report numbers after an Oct. 26 shooting that sent one patron to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg. According to police reports, an officer was flagged down by a bar patron and told that someone had just been shot inside the Wichita Pub. As back-up officers arrived, people began streaming out of the pub. Officers estimated hundreds of people were in the bar even though the pub has a maximum capacity of 199.

Sitting before the City Council on Monday night, Wichita Pub owner Randy Kleinsmitch admitted that over the past few years his bar has attracted an 'undesirable crowd.' And after a meeting with police and OLCC representatives in December, Kleinsmitch stopped the bar's long running and popular Thursdays Ladies' Night.

The bar's new business policy includes stopping the Ladies' Night drink specials, instituting a no-hat policy and changing the music from what Kleinsmitch termed 'gansta rap' to Top 40 music.

Kleinsmitch referred to the new policies as the bar's 'control plan' as requested by the police department and OLCC representatives to help reduce the number of incidents.

But since Dec. 19 when the new policies were put in place, police have received 22 calls for service from the pub. If that's the entire plan, Barker said it hasn't been working.

A 23-year-old ordinance on liquor licensing outlines the purpose of recommendations from the City Council to the OLCC. The ordinance states that its own necessity comes from the need to ensure that businesses 'are conducted in a lawful manner that does not unreasonably disturb the peace and tranquility of this city and its neighborhoods.'

Council President Ed Truax said, 'One thing we like is a vibrant downtown night life, but it's reached a point where it's beyond the kind of night life we want.'

The pub still has about 45 days left on its current license. The OLCC will make the final determination on the pub's licensing for another year.

Employees and patrons from the Wichita Pub packed three rows of chairs during Monday's council meeting. They compared the pub to the sitcom 'Cheers' where everybody knows your name.

Kleinsmitch noted that since his change in policies, his once capacity crowds have now dwindled to 60 to 70 people on a peak night. The lull in business would only be the beginning for the restaurant/bar if the liquor license was denied, Kleinsmitch said.

He asked for more time to turn things around.

'I wish I could say that things change over night with the snap of a finger,' he said. 'It's taken a few weeks to grab hold. The way things are going, it's going toward a positive direction.'

Representatives at the OLCC overseeing the Wichita Pub license renewal, and expected to rule on it, were not available for comment. However OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott noted that just this month the OLCC will issue two notices of proposed license cancellation for two bars - Joker's Pub in Bend and Lucky Fortune Restaurant in Salem. Both businesses, Scott said had long histories of fighting and noise disturbances.