Presuming all goes well with the state Senate — which has to agree to the appointment — White Lake Township resident Andrew Deloney will be the new chairman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (LCC), which is responsible for managing the beer, wine and liquor industry in the state, and also giving the final word on all liquor licenses in the state. The current vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, Deloney previously was the assistant state director for Michigan’s arm of the National Federal of Independent Business. He moved with his wife and children to White Lake in September 2001.
SCN: You were recently appointed to the chairmanship of the LCC. What are your goals in your new job and what reforms do you hope come to the beer, wine and liquor industry under your leadership?
AD: First of all, it’s an honor and very humbling to be appointed to serve Gov. Rick Snyder in this capacity. I’m looking forward to being a part of his aggressive agenda of reform and reinvention for the state of Michigan, particularly in this process, which is in need of reform and reinvention. Michigan is a control state when it comes to distilled spirits or hard liquor. The state of Michigan Liquor Control Commission is responsible for licensing all producers, distributors, manufacturers, restaurants, taverns, and retail stores that sell alcohol, vendors. So there is a tremendous role the state plays in that, and it has to run efficiently and smoothly so that business gets done in the state of Michigan.
We have to be sensitive about the nature of these products, products which can be abused if they are in the wrong hands. But at the same time, alcoholic beverages are legal products, and there are thousands upon thousands of businesses — most of which are small, family businesses here in the state of Michigan — that rely on the ability to either manufacture or distribute or serve these products. And their livelihood depends upon the ability to do that, so we have to make sure that, while we are making sure that the laws of this state are being followed, we have to make sure that people have the ability to compete and succeed in this business.
SCN: Are there any changes you’d like to see in the licensing process, or the way alcohol is taxed, during your tenure as chairman of the LCC?
AD: One of the things I’m going to be looking very closely at is the licensing process. In my current capacity, I have seen first-hand how long, how complicated, and how difficult the process of obtaining a liquor license can be, and that’s very unfortunate. Many states have a relatively very quick process that doesn’t require the obtaining an attorney to help facilitate this process. Here in the state of Michigan, it’s almost absolutely necessary to have an attorney to guide you through the process. It’s very complicated. It can take anywhere from several months to more than a year just to get a liquor license transfer approved, and that’s unfortunate. The process does not need to be that long. It does not need to be that complicated, particularly if you’re somebody who has either been in business in Michigan for many years with several liquor licenses with a clean record of violations. If you go to get that next license, why does it require you to go through the same process all over again when the state already knows pretty much everything about you? There is some new information they would need to get, but it should not require the same process all over and over again. And on the other side, If you’re a small entrepreneur looking to open up your first restaurant or tavern, or open your first retail store that needs a liquor license, this should not be a process that costs you just about every red cent that you have in your pocket and puts you in debt going into the reasonable future because of attorneys’ fees. It shouldn’t be that way, and we have to reform that process.
SCN: What more, if anything, needs to be done to help curb underage drinking and, in particular, the sale of alcohol to minors?
AD: You’d be surprised. Across this great state, there are so many community-based groups, ad hoc groups of concerned citizens who have come together to prevent and fight substance abuse, whether you’re talking about alcohol or illegal narcotics. There are many faith-based organizations. There are all sorts of organizations and groups and dedicated individuals out there who always have new ideas.
For example, yesterday at the Liquor Control Commission’s quarterly meeting, a community volunteer in the city of Royal Oak talked about the idea of, “Everybody knows that when you turn the age of 21, you can sell alcohol.” A lot of the education and awareness has been focused on, okay, just because you’re 21, we don’t want to see you binge drinking now that it’s legal for you. But what about the legal dangers of selling or buying alcohol for people under the age of 21? Certainly there are a lot of folks, young people who, when their friends turn 21, there may be an expectation placed on the person who is over the age of 21 to purchase alcohol for the person who is under the age of 21. Do those who are 21 know what sort of potential legal danger they are putting their friends in if they purchase alcohol?
The point is, there is all sorts of community organizations, faith-based organizations, as well as some state and local government programs that educate and create awareness of the dangers of the abuse of alcoholic beverages, and that is something we are going to have to build on. Of course, we are going to be emphasizing and enforcing the law that it is illegal to sell, provide or furnish alcohol to those who are under the age of 21. We take those laws at the state very seriously and we are going to be enforcing them.
SCN: A bill working its way through the state Legislature would exempt minors under the influence of alcohol presenting themselves for treatment from misdemeanor charges in certain situations. With the LCC’s campaign to stop underage drinking, how does this bill sit with you?
AD: Of course it goes without saying that people who are under 21 who drink are making the wrong choice and making an illegal choice and a potentially hazardous choice. In the event we are talking about here, where someone has ingested alcohol to a dangerous level where it requires medical treatment, of course it goes without saying they have made a very dangerous and illegal choice. However, the focus should be, at that particular time, on providing treatment to make sure that the person who is in danger gets the medical treatment that they need and they get it quickly.
While I’m not a lawmaker, I would say that’s the priority — make sure that the person gets the attention that they need. They should not have to be worrying about things like prosecutorial danger or anything like that. I know that the law enforcement community, the medical community, the emergency medical community, as well as the prosecution community, have gotten together and worked on the legislation over the years. My understanding is that they have come to some agreements on this, agreements that will meet their needs on all sides — from a law enforcement perspective, from a prosecutorial perspective, but also an emergency medical treatment perspective. My understanding is that they’ve all come to agreements on this, but again, my personal view is that the immediate need, the immediate attention is on their personal health, and we need to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to make that call to make sure that person gets the treatment that they need. That needs to be their first and only concern.
SCN: In the lameduck legislative session last year, lawmakers voted to allow alcohol sales on Sundays before noon in Michigan with a special license and in communities that allow it. What are your thoughts, in general, on the law, and do you see any need to modify it any further?
AD: That is something that, in my current capacity here at the Michigan Restaurant Association, we have strongly supported for years. We were able to be a leader on that legislation and turning it into law late last year. At the Liquor Control Commission meeting yesterday, thus far about 5,500 of these Sunday morning permits have been issued across the state thus far. That gives you a sense that, while not every licensee had an interest in pursuing Sunday morning sales — it is voluntary, not required — but certainly there was a tremendous interest on the part of the restaurant and tavern and retail store community to have this ability to create some additional sales and provide some additional convenience. I’ve heard stories over the years from lots of people like grocery store owners, who would have a cart at the end of the aisle from people who would come in to do some shopping and it would slip their mind that you weren’t able to purchase alcohol before noon on a Sunday morning. Sometimes, they would never come back to buy the alcohol after noon. It’s safe to say that there is tremendous interest in it. This is something that is long overdue. It just goes to show you that liquor licensees — responsible, licensed establishments who are licensed to sell and provide alcoholic beverages — were very much interested, and it’s worked so far for many of them. There’s lots of interest, and the numbers show it already — 5,500 in the works. Of course, I would like, when the establishments are applying for these permits, they are getting them quickly. I know there were some concerns last December, late last year, because these permits were to be effective Dec. 1. The commission wasn’t able to really start issuing them until really a couple weeks later. Why is that? We never got a good answer. So again, swift and efficient and timely consideration of applications of licensing and permit issuance is going to be a top priority.
SCN: In your role as vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, you and the organization were firmly against the smoking ban. What changes, if any, do you see coming down the pike with the new Republican-controlled state Legislature and governor’s mansion?
AD: Certainly, we have a state House and state Senate that are dominated by Republicans. Because of term limits this year, there was a much larger number of new freshmen lawmakers than we’ve seen in the past couple of cycles because there were so many seats that were left open. There are a lot of folks in the (state) Legislature who are coming from a business background, who are coming from a personal freedom background, who want to see some changes done.
It’s too early to say at this point what may happen with it. From a liquor license establishment point of view, I can tell you that there certainly seems to be some parallels between reduced sales of alcohol along with the smoking ban. It appears there is some correlation there. There certainly is a number of legislators in the House and Senate, in both parties, who want to see some changes made. There doesn’t appear to be any coalescing agreement on what, if anything, should be done about it. There’s lots of ideas out there. A number of legislators have introduced different bills that would do any number of different things to change the smoking ban, but it doesn’t appear as though there is any sort of coalescing agreement building about what should be done. So it’s difficult to say at this point. We still have about a year and a half to go in this legislative session, and for those lawmakers who thought this issue was going away, they are sorely mistaken. This is going to be kicked around for years because there is always going to be a large number of people who are unhappy about it, no matter what it says, no matter what it looks like.
How did you come to be the vice president of public affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association? What’s your history in the restaurant industry?
AD: My very first job growing up, I worked in a TCBY shop in Waterford that was owned by some friends of our family. So that was my very first job, working in a food service establishment. Of course, it’s not like a dining restaurant, but it is a licensed food serving establishment. There are sanitation standards you have to meet. You have customer service. You have to take payment. You have to issue change. You have to take care of customers. And of course you have to make sure, working with dairy products like that, you’re working with them in a sanitary manner, making sure all the machines are kept clean, making sure the product that is coming in the back door is properly taken care of and kept at the proper temperatures and things like that. So that was my very first job.
I started working in Lansing when I was in college in 1993 working on the House Republican central staff under former Speaker Paul Hillegonds. From there, I worked for a couple state representatives doing policy work, a former state representative from the Battle Creek area and then doing policy work for a state representative from the north-central Michigan. From there, I went into the private sector, doing advocacy work for the National Federation for Independent Business at their Michigan office in Lansing as a junior lobbyist. After six years there — eight years ago — I came over to the MRA in June of 2003, working as vice president of public affairs since then, being the chief lobbyist for the association, looking out for the consensus views and opinions of our membership on a broad variety of areas — tax policy, food safety policy, labor policy, and of course, liquor control policy, alcohol policy. It’s been a great eight years. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. But when the governor calls and says he wants you to serve in a capacity to help lead part of his agenda to reform and reinvent the state, that’s a hard call to not listen to. It is a great opportunity, and I’m honored and thrilled and humbled, quite frankly, to be asked to serve in this way.