For all the talk about Council not voting in blocks of four, that’s exactly what happened around 4:30 a.m. when At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries and Carol Wood, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and Vice-President A’Lynne Robinson voted for recommending to the state that Cadillac Club owner Dave Sheets not have his license renewed. Voting against the resolution were Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Kaltenbach, At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen and President Derrick Quinney.
It’s no wonder that some on Council are reluctant to help ax Sheets’ liquor license. He spent over $1 million renovating the former bowling alley into the Cadillac Club, which was oncen an upscale nightclub and restaurnt. But last year, Sheets had to close the restaurant and switched to hosting private parties —many of which have been hiphop themed.
It has been these hip-hop parties that have raised the ire of neighbors. In October, a man was shot near the club.
To call the end of the hearing anticlimatic would be an understatement. When the hearing began at 5 p.m., there was a standing-room-only crowd in Council Chambers on the 10th floor of City Hall. The Council dais was converted into a makeshift courtroom, with assistant city attorney Mark Leonard, flanked by Lansing Police Detective Christopher Devlin, serving as the prosecution. Local attorney, mayoral candidate and Lansing school board member Charles Ford represented Sheets.
The hearing was scheduled to last to 7 p.m., but it became clear that two hours to hear evidence and vote on the issue was overly ambitious. The Council session was convened and then adjourned, with the hearing taking pre cedence.
Leonard and Ford registered objections to procedure, questioning content consistently throughout the opening hours of the hearing. Ford contested the city bringing forward evidence of unpaid property taxes, which he charged had no bearing on whether the liquor license should be revoked. Jeffries later noted that taxes were not listed as part of the case against Sheets.
The city, acting in conjunction with the police, was supposed to present a case proving a violation of the terms of the liquor license held by the Cadillac Club. If the Council felt that a “preponderance of the evidence” showed a violation of the terms of the liquor license, members were to vote in favor of either outright revoking the license or sending a recommendation to the state that the license not be renewed. The Cadillac Club’s liquor license is set to expire April 30.
The city’s case centered on the volume of calls for service made to the Cadillac Club: 110 between July 2008 and March. However, under questioning, a measure of doubt was raised about how many of those calls for service were directly related to an event being held at the Cadillac Club. For example, one of those service calls, which actually came from the Cadillac Club, was to report a train stuck at the rail crossing along Washington Avenue.
Ford said the city was simply going for the “wow factor” in showing the number of calls. When a parade of officers and detectives took the stand, the city referenced another chart that that showed between July 2008 and February there had been 95 incidents at the Cadillac Club. The next closest comparable bar was dowtown Lansing’s Club Xcel, with 50 incidents over that same period. Ford argued that the proportion of incidents to the amount of patrons showed the Cadillac Club wasn’t any more a problem than any other bar in town.
"We had double the patrons, but proportionately, other clubs had more (incidents per patron)," he said. The Cadillac Club has a capacity of 720. The police pegged Club Xcel as having a capacity of 400. (However, the Cadillac Club is not open as often as Xcel.)
The city argued that not only was the sheer volume of calls for service a problem, but that the drain on police resources was a detriment for the rest of the city.
Police Capt. Ray Hall, who heads the North Precinct, said simply, "If we aren’t at the Cadillac Club, bad things happen."
Sgt. Dave Emmonds expressed a similar sentiment. During an incident at the club in January, Emmonds said the officers were "overwhelmed and outnumbered," and said the club’s troubles result in a significant and consistent drain on the department.
In one groan-inducing moment, Leonard, referencing statistics, asked Devlin if being at the Cadillac Club meant one was more likely to be the victim of an assault. Even Devlin didn’t bite, replying, “An assault can happen anywhere.”
By the time Sheets got to speak, around 2 a.m., some Council members were already discussing the possibility of a solution that would assign Sheets a deadline to address security concerns to keep his liquor license.
It seemed the sympathy vote was squarely with Sheets, but he did little to endear the half of Council that was not 100 percent on his side. After addressing Robinson as "honey" and making what some in the crown interpreted as off-color remarks, one supporter in the front row said, audibly, “Shut him up!”
Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen told Ford that Sheets should’ve been kept off the stand.
Around 4:30 a.m., Kaltenbach announced he’d vote against the resolution, believing Sheets "deserved another chance." Jeffries said he’d vote in favor of the resolution with the hope that, in Thursday’s Council session, the group could draw up a resolution with conditions.
Near 5 a.m., Robinson called for a vote and was visibly flustered with the outcome. She noted that a majority on the Council agreed that Sheets had issues and violations that needed to be addressed, and implored the Council to draft a new resolution somewhere in the middle ground between off-thehook and out-of-business.
Sheets said he would meet with Hall to hear suggestions for improving security at the club. Still, he remained frustrated.
"I’m here. I’m open. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Capt. Hall had called me in October, November, December" instead of bringing the matter to Council, Sheets said.