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Town Council Grants Norman's, Rok Bar Two-Week Extension

They voted to renew Bistro 9's alcohol licenses.

Credit: EG Patch
Credit: EG Patch
Ed. Note: This story was amended at 12:10 p.m., Jan. 14.

One month after it granted three restaurants liquor-victualing license extensions even though they owed town or state taxes, the Town Council gave two of those restaurants – Norman's and Rok Bar – another two-week extension, to Jan. 27, and renewed the third – Bistro 9.

Norman's Tap & Lounge, 159 Main St., owes more than $26,000 in sewer fees dating back to 2010 and around $10,000 in property taxes.

In December, Rok Bar had owed “around $6,000” in sales taxes to the state. During the panel's regular meeting Monday night, Town Council President Michael Isaacs said, "There's some amount in dispute apparently … but we know he has made a payment," referring to owner Brandon Sweet. 

Sharon Hazard, representing her father Norman Harris, who owns the Norman's, told council members papers had been put in Monday morning for a home equity loan. She said the family owns properties outright (no mortgage). The plan, Hazard said, is to use the money from the home equity loan to pay off the debt to the town in a lump sum.

Councilman Mark Gee wasn't having it. As he has stated in previous meetings, Gee said he didn't think it was fair to the townspeople and the other business owners to allow one or two businesses to get extra help.

"Is it the government's business to make special exemptions for one or two individual businesses?" Gee said. "Over a period of three years, or four years, we haven't had any effort to honor your responsibility.... To me it's almost a little abusive to the town." 

Council President Isaacs, however, suggested the council be flexible. 

"I think there's light at the end of the tunnel. We should exhibit some flexibility on this. I think they do need some time to work this out," he said. "... I don't think we'll be in this situation again, given what the clerk's office and the finance office have put in place."

Councilman Jeff Cianciolo said he was willing to give Norman's more time, in light of the loan. 

"What you've described in my mind is enough to give you two weeks," he told Hazard. Still, he wanted Hazard to be able to show the council that the Harris properties are indeed free of debt, since the home equity loan would not be settled for six to eight weeks, by Hazard's estimate.

"I'd like to see some evidence that these properties are indeed unencumbered," said Cianciolo. He asked that Hazard have a title search done that she could share with the prospective lender, rather than wait for the lender to complete its own title search.

Hazard agreed to provide that information at the meeting Jan. 27. The council voted 4-1 in favor of the extension, with Gee voting against the extension.

Gee took the same stand with regard to Rok Bar. That vote was 3-2 in favor of the extention, with Gee and Cianciolo casting the dissenting votes. 

"Rok Bar apparently still has outstanding tax obligations to the State and offered no explanation as to when or how the obligations would be satisfied," said Cianciolo Tuesday. 

Bistro 9 was also granted an extension in December because the state had not yet sent notification the restaurant had paid its sales tax. That notification has since been received, Town Clerk Leigh Botello told the council Monday. The council voted 5-0 to renew Bistro 9's alcohol-victualing license.

Class of 98 January 13, 2014 at 11:49 PM
Kudos to Mr. Gee for showing a little backbone and saying 'No'. This is what the 4th extension for Norman's? Number 1 rule of business is suppose to be the owner is the last to get paid...apparently not here.
nonpc January 14, 2014 at 06:30 AM
Agreed. Hats off to Gee and somewhat to Cianciolo. My question to him is how do you not vote 'no' to Norman's as well in light of its track record vs. Rok Bar?? Odd, but not nearly as odd as the rest of the council. Let's change the name from the towm council to the town game board for the way it gets played.
BOB I January 14, 2014 at 07:27 AM
no money, no license. that was the intent of the law. why is the council so afraid to enforce it.
Heather Larkin January 14, 2014 at 08:53 AM
Good job Mr. Gee. I'm all for helping out a small business in trouble but taxes owed since 2010? They should have been finding financing three years ago to make this right. And can we expect them to pay their taxes on time now or will we be having deja vu in 2018?
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) January 14, 2014 at 12:08 PM
nonpc, I got an answer from Jeff on his Rok Bar vote: "Rok Bar apparently still has outstanding tax obligations to the State and offered no explanation as to when or how the obligations would be satisfied."
EG January 14, 2014 at 01:27 PM
We should give Norman's a break when there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
BOB I January 14, 2014 at 01:30 PM
both should be closed. when they com ply let them reopen.
EG January 14, 2014 at 01:34 PM
We should close most of the government agencies in RI to lower the tax bills. How many towns, school districts and state government agencies in this 1 million people state?
Bob Plain January 20, 2014 at 08:08 AM
C'mon, EG ... Norman's is one of the oldest businesses in town, and the Harris family will be here long after those who would cheer on Mr. Gee's lack of understanding move on to South County (soon after their kids collect their high school diplomas). The Harris' got behind on their bills during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression but now they have a plan to move forward and make everything right ... The only reason NOT to work with them at this point would seem to be to punitive. (Remember, EG doesn't automatically get another Besos just by closing Norman's down ... It's much more likely we just get a shuttered business). Mr. Gee's comment that the Harris' struggles/mistakes are akin to abuse is insulting to anyone who has ever struggled and unwittingly needed a helping hand - and, not to mention, to anyone who has ever suffered actual abuse. (And as far as his question as to whether it is the government's job to make exemptions, the answer is a resounding yes! Indeed, it is a core reason as to why the Council hears these matters!!) The public policy question here is whether the people of East Greenwich are better off working with the Harris family, or closing down a local business (one of the most iconic in town, I might add - like it or not, their neon sign is a huge component in Main Street's ambiance). A solution that benefits everyone might be to grant the Harris' a monthly payment plan, with benchmarks. I'm hoping Councilor Gee and Norma might be willing to meet over eggs and coffee once a month to check in. Knowing both of these great people, I believe they would both really benefit from the relationship ... as would the rest of us residents, taxpayers and other various well-wishers....
Heather Larkin January 20, 2014 at 09:40 AM
Bob, I'm sure they are a very nice family and I feel for them but I have a hard time with a business (old or new) that does not pay their taxes and appears to ignore the problem for a few years. They should have been talking to the TC in 2011 to make payment arrangements before more taxes and interest accrued, not waiting until the threat of losing their liquor license to mortgage a property.
Bob Plain January 20, 2014 at 12:12 PM
Thanks Heather. I'm really glad you have some sympathy for their plight and I can appreciate that this is a hard one for you, and others. And you are absolutely right on when you point out that the Harris' would have been wise (and good neighbors!) to have been more proactive about this ... But I don't see how shutting them down serves anyone's best interest (unless, of course, your interest is to get the Harris family off Main Street.) But even then, we'd still be out $26,000 and there is now a boarded up business on Main Street to show for it. I say we work with them rather than cut off their nose in spite of it being a part of our face!! (ps: if you've never been to Norman's, I'd be glad to treat you to a cup of coffee there sometime? Same offer applies to Jeff Cianciolo and Mark Gee and anyone else who thinks cutting off someone's source of revenue is a good way to get them to pay you back!!)

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