Opinion

Something had to be done at Harborside

The disagreement that’s flared in the past month between Bay Street’s Harborside Bar & Grill and the city of Port Orchard is regrettable on a number of levels.

First, as owner Scott Hlinka points out, the Harborside is a local business and, at least in financial terms, a successful one. The hundreds of free-spending patrons who crowded into the establishment on a busy night bring money into the community, employment to local residents and tax revenue into the city.

Since we believe all three of those goals are worth promoting by any municipal government, it seems a shame some sort of understanding couldn’t have been reached that would have allowed the Harborside to preserve its liquor license and, consequently, its commercial viability.

We’re also mindful that Hlinka, who purchased the bar from current Port Orchard City Councilman Ron Rider just a few months ago, still has a lease to fulfill and, without a liquor license, it’s hard to see how he’ll be able to stay in business.

The problem is, promoting business — while important — ranks several notches lower on the list of priorities for city leaders than the fundamental safety of their constituents. And in that sense, there’s little question Mayor Kim Abel and Police Chief Al Townsend made the correct call in cracking down on the Harborside and urging the state Liquor Control Board not to renew its license to dispense liquor.

According to police incident reports dating back several weeks, the situation at the Harborside had gradually deteriorated to the point where every single officer on duty on a recent Saturday night — plus reinforcements from the Sheriff’s Department and State Patrol — had to be stationed along Bay Street just to deal with the noise, public intoxication and fighting associated with the Harborside.

Hlinka, for his part, denies things were that bad. He also claimed to be working with the city to reduce the problems, and we’ll assume he was sincere in his efforts — after all, no one has more to lose than he if the business fails.

Where we disagree profoundly with Hlinka, however, is his insistence on portraying himself as a victim of the city in this dispute. Hlinka accuses the Abel and the police of harrassing him and exaggerating the severity of Harborside’s problems, but he neglects to cite a reason for their alleged vendetta against him.

What motive would Abel or Townsend have for persecuting him other than the obvious — that the patrons of the Harborside had become a nuisance to the peace and a threat to the safety of Port Orchard’s residents?

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Liquor Control Board whether or not the Harborside gets its permanent liquor license — over the objections of the mayor and the police chief. And if between now and then Hlinka can come up with some assurances the establishment’s problems had been resolved, we’d be all in favor of the board’s ruling favorably.

In the meantime, the ball is in Hlinka’s court.

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