Lawton City Council debate: Hop & Sack beer license suspension

Lawton_An intense debate Tuesday night at Lawton City Hall over the council's recent decision to crack down on convenience stores that sell beer to minors. Since August of last year, a store that is caught selling beer twice in less than two years can have its license revoked. Two weeks ago, the municipal court judge enforced that ordinance, and suspended the beer license of the owner of the Hop & Sack on Cache Road.  But the judge delayed that suspension to allow the owner time to appeal the ruling to the council, and the owner did that at Tuesday night's meeting. The owner's attorney said this is the first time the city has suspended a license over this issue. He said they're making an example out of his client.

When Donovan Woodburn found his employees selling beer to minors at his Hop & Sack on Cache Road, he fired them. He said it's in their employee handbook, and they broke the rules. But now, he said he's being punished for rules his employees broke. So, Woodburn loses twice: his employees and his license. His attorney said the law does not allow the city to take that away. "You have to have a knowing and willful violation. So that means if you're going to suspend his license for the actions of his employees, there has to be a willful violation," said his attorney, David Butler.

But the city argued that Woodburn had plenty of time to correct the problem and city council members weren't agreeing either. Some were thinking that employees might even try to frame their employers. "Will do things to get back at their boss. I just have a problem with that," said Councilman Stanley Haywood.

"I doubt seriously they'd do something on purpose so they'd have to pay a fine," said Councilman Bill Shoemate.

"It's not like they go in there with a fake I.D., they go in there with their I.D. They put the I.D. up there and these people either can't read or they just sell it to them anyway. And that's a shame," said Councilman Jay Burk.

Woodburn said over 30 percent of sales come from beer sales. But he would never condone selling it to minors. In fact, he says he wish he didn't have to sell it at all, but he can't afford not to. "I wasn't condoning it. If I would have been condoning it, I would have left every one of them working and said 'Oh well, let me help you cover this fine.' I didn't do that. I don't want any part of it. And I've stated that. We go over it in interviews, we go over it in the handbook and then we have them sign off. Short of what can I stop that from happening," said owner Donovan Woodburn, Jr.

Council rescinded the Municipal Court ruling with a very close vote. Woodburn will be able to continue to sell beer at his Cache Road Hop & Sack store.