By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — The days of Swampscott Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1240 functioning as a dry establishment are numbered. Alcohol will soon be served again following a brief liquor license suspension.
Town officials suspended the VFW’s liquor license for 30 days in January following four violations in less than a year’s time. The infractions were presented during a disciplinary hearing in January, with Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan and Detective Ted Delano present.
Three of the four infractions involved over serving patrons, and the fourth involved serving alcohol to nonmembers of the club, when no members were present. The club’s license allows members to bring in guests, but people who aren’t members are not allowed to be there alone.
Two of the incidents, involving serving patrons who were intoxicated, resulted in car accidents, and subsequent arrests for OUI liquor. Both drivers told police they had been drinking at the VFW.
The third person who was over served was arrested for disorderly conduct, after urinating in public, in front of the VFW. The man told police that he had three beers at the VFW post, but police said his blood alcohol level of .182 was not consistent with that number of drinks.
Following the suspension, the VFW was required to go before the Board of Selectmen to submit in writing the steps they had taken to ensure the post was safer and to address the board’s concerns.
During the hearing, the selectmen told the VFW that after the 30-day suspension, the post would be able to serve alcohol again, but only until 8 p.m. for another 30 days. Their bar usually remains open until 12 a.m.
Last Wednesday, John Sacherski, VFW Post 1240 commander, and the post’s attorney, Neil Rossman, appeared before the selectmen to present the eight steps that had been taken to improve alcohol service at the establishment.
The selectmen, satisfied with the steps outlined, decided to waive the additional 30 days that hours of alcohol service would be rolled back, and instead reinstate service until the VFW’s regular hours of 12 a.m.
One of the conditions set by the board was that all of the bartenders would be required to attend Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) training. Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, said the police department told her all of the servers had attended that training.
“We really felt that they had addressed the issue and that they were certainly addressing the issues of concern and we felt that they had done it adequately,” Dreeben said. “We don’t want our veterans to not be able to gather and enjoy themselves. We just need to be assured that there are procedures and protocols in place to to address the things that have been problems in the past.
“We did not feel that any further closure or early closing was necessary,” Dreeben said. “We really do appreciate that they took our concerns seriously and I believe that they’re committed to the safety of the neighborhood and town as well.”
The selectmen did require one condition before alcohol could be served again at the VFW. A memorandum of understanding between town officials and the post, which formalizes the eight steps taken to improve alcohol service, in addition to two more requests added by the selectmen, was required to be signed by all employees and officers of the VFW.
The memorandum would also have to be signed by each new employee going forward, Dreeben said.
“You represent the town’s veterans and I think we all want to see the post really get back to that good standing,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.
Steps to improve alcohol service, presented by the VFW, outlined how the servers recently attended and completed an alcohol course given by the Swampscott police, how all servers had been TIPS (training for intervention procedures) certified, and no one would be allowed to serve who was not.
The bartender who served a woman involved in a car accident, who was subsequently arrested for OUI, was in the process of TIPS alcohol certification, but the others involved in the infractions had completed their training.
Sacherski said one bartender, his daughter, was fired three days after over serving a patron.
“Policies are policies and rules are rules,” Sacherski said. “Regulations are regulations and I’m a stickler (for them). I’m sorry we have to even be here at this moment tonight to handle this situation, but hopefully we can handle it in the most respectful way we can.”
VFW representatives said that a key card system had recently been installed so that only members with a card have access to the building. In addition, a computer keeps a log of entry time and identity of whoever enters. The selectmen requested that key card access also be provided to the police and fire departments, which Rossman said was already the case.
Three other organizations use the VFW, and are also considered members. With the new rules, associate membership, limited to members of American Legion, Marine Corps League and Disabled American Veterans, are only allowed to bring in a guest two times a year. Full members can bring in guests any time, Sacherski said. Posted notices say that guests must leave when the members who brought them do, representatives said.
To increase security, Sacherski said cameras have been installed around the building, which show what’s happening inside and outside, including the parking lot. Dreeben said she was concerned that there wasn’t a plan to watch the security cameras at all times. Sacherski said one could be put behind the bar, so any possible incidents outside could be monitored in real time.
“If this comes back to us that there’s more continuation, then I think it puts us in a really tough position,” said selectman Peter Spellios. “I hope we don’t have to revisit this. I think there’s a real genuine concern about safety.”
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley