All’s fair in love and Card Wars…
For years Westport businessman Bill Nigro has waged a war of words against a pair of cards Kansas City has required workers in the service industry – bars and restaurants – to purchase and carry. Nigro polished one off – the health department’s "food handler" card – last month and as of this year, they are no longer required.
The so-called "health card" cost 20 bucks and required workers who handle food to take classes on hand washing and the like.
That leaves one last card on Nigro’s hit list, Kansas City Regulated Industries "liquor card."
"This is something that’s been debated on the council at length," says Regulated Industries head Gary Majors. "And we did systematically go through a lot of the regulations and modified some of them that didn’t make any sense – actually, a lot of ’em.
"As far as the liquor cards, that was one of two things that was hotly debated and the Public Safety Neighborhoods Committee decided (we) should keep them – that was the first time. The second time the law was changed and we came up with ordinance changes."
Ordinance changes to rules that banned convicted felons from working in the liquor biz. Ordinances that were struck down with the exception of murder, rape and sexual abuse of a child, Majors says.
"That was a hotly debated process and many of the council didn’t want to relax our restrictions at all," Majors says. "They wanted to keep all felons out, but the council approved it."
So twice in four years the liquor cards were discussed and debated, Majors says.
Persons working in the alcohol selling and serving biz are required to apply for the card by submitting their personal information to Regulated Industries (at a cost of $13 a year). Regulated Industries then processes that information and gives them a green light. Or doesn’t.
"What’s the purpose of the card?" Nigro counters. "To save me from hiring bad guys? We don’t need 10 people at Regulated Industries to pull money out of poor people to make cards. It’s just a way for the city to make money and they’re having a tough time admitting that."
The problem, Nigro says, is that minimum wage workers have a tough time with coming up with the cash – $40 up front for three years – and dragging down to out-of-the-way parts of the city to apply for the cards.
"I’m not saying it’s not tough on people just getting started," Majors says. "But I don’t think it prevents nearly the number of people (Nigro thinks it does) from getting a job. My opinion is, there’s some real value there, in more than one way."
Majors says he thinks it keeps bad guys out of the industry, but Nigro says, "We can police ourselves," Majors says. "We’ve given Bill a lot of what he’s asked for, but we disagree on some things."
"It’s a meaningless card," Nigro says. "I use them to pick door locks, that’s what I use mine for. I hope they can read it when they come in to check mine."
Which brings us to Nigro’s second gripe about the liquor cards.
And that’s that Regulated Industries and police come into bars and restaurants on busy nights and hassle workers at the worst possible time to make sure they have their liquor cards on them. And if they don’t, they send them home leaving the businesses short-handed.
"That’s not true," Majors says. "All they have to do is the business owners make a copy of the cards and keep them on file. Or we take the person’s name (who doesn’t have a card) and get back to them later. Then if they don’t have a card, we tell the business they can’t serve liquor and they can’t be a bouncer."
Hold it right there, Nigro says.
"They say they don’t send you home? How many bartenders do you want me to have call you to tell you they’ve sent people home? Maybe this is something new they’re doing because we’ve complained."
Nigro’s bottom line on the liquor cards:
"It’s a bigger insult than the health card, because at least with the health card they teach you how to wash your hands and keep warm things warm and cold things cold. They’ve used the liquor cards in the past to shake us down.
"They shove these cards down the throats of people who can’t afford them. They’re roadblocks to people trying to get jobs. I think it’s nonsense and that’s why I call them dumb cards. Half my employees don’t have cars and they have to find a way to get to 7th and Woodland to go get a card. It prevents owners from being able to conduct business."
Nigro’s New Year’s Resolution: to do to KC’s liquor cards the same thing he did last year to the city’s health cards.
The battle lines are drawn…