Citizen Wausau

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Thoughts on IC Willys

by on July 24th, 2010

When I attended the IC Willys hearing on June 29th, I did it partially under the premise of doing it for a future Citizen Wausau article. After a few hours, I realized what I had gotten myself into and I still had some work to do.  I gave Dino either an email or text message, I don’t remember which, but it was enough to get his curiosity high enough to come by the hearing so I could return to work.  I let the rest of my day go on, checking in now and then.  I even went to the Woodchucks game that evening.  On my drive home around 9:30 PM, I saw the lights to council chambers still on, so I stopped by and ended up catching the last couple of hours of testimony. I stayed there with a few other members of the press until a final decision was reached by the committee.

A few weeks ago, the editorial of the Wausau Daily Herald covered the revoking of IC Willys’ liquor license (and thus their ability to even be in business) from the angle of being a good corporate citizen.  It was clear from testimony at the hearing that the level of cooperation between IC Willys management and the neighbors, as well as the police department, was less than ideal.  It was also clear this level of cooperation (or lack thereof) played a role in the decision not to renew the license.  The question posed by the WDH is: if that was proper?  Other night clubs have had similar complaints, maybe even more in number, but they were not on trial to have a license revoked.

My reaction to the WDH editorial (no, I was not a member of their Editorial Board at the time that was written, so I can comment on it in good conscience) was that cooperation and management attitude did play a role, but it shouldn’t have.  It was my statement that I agreed the IC Willys license should not have been renewed, but I thought other liquor license holders with a similar number (or greater number for that matter) of similar violations should have been fighting for their lives as well.

Having had the chance to reflect on that opinion (which hasn’t changed), I realize the double standard that I now have.  I am saying to the City of Wausau and the Public Health and Safety Committee as well as the Wausau Police Department, when you break a rule, you break a rule. Whether you are nice to the neighbors, nice to the police or nice to the committee is irrelevant — a rule is a rule.

I say that when I realize that every single day in my chosen profession, I do the same thing the City of Wausau did.  How so, you ask?

To the one or two out there who may not be aware, I am a real estate investor – a landlord – who either owns or manages nearly 200 units throughout the Greater Wausau area.  These are tough economic times.  I have tenants who have lost their jobs, whose unemployment benefits have run out, and some who have no ability to make the rental payments.  So, what do I do?

The rules are fairly simple and straight-forward.  Pay the rent, and enjoy your home.  Don’t pay the rent, and you will find yourself in court followed closely by the sheriff, forcing you to move.  The economic conditions combined with overbuilding of multi-family units has lead to my personal vacancy rates hitting record highs of over 20-percent and vacancy losses of over $20,000 per month.  If I went ahead and evicted everyone unable to pay the rent, I could easily increase those vacancy numbers by at least 50-percent.

So, what do I do?  I take off my “black and white world” glasses that I love so much and take into consideration extenuating circumstances.  Have the tenants been up front with me with the situation as it developed?  Are they making an effort?  How long have they been with me?  These are all questions I ask before I decide to essentially make someone homeless.  Tenants who are honest with me, who demonstrate their good will, who make an effort — they are likely to not face court action.  I have more than one tenant who is months behind in rent, and thousands of dollars behind.  They make little payments now and then, paying me what they can with what little income they have coming in.  If something comes up where they can’t make a small payment, they tell me ahead of time.

On the other hand, I have other tenants who missed one rental payment.  We called them and are not able to get a hold of them or they won’t return my calls.  We send letters – nothing.  After not hearing from the tenant, I take a couple of sheets of paper down to the courthouse with a check for nearly $100 and start the process to remove them from the property.

I am guilty of the same thing that I said bothered me about the City’s decision.  If I was to be fair, everyone who missed a rental payment should be evicted.  But I take into consideration their level of cooperation and good faith with me.

Let’s face it, as much as many of us agree that there should be a consequence every time a rule is broken, ultimately that is why there are rules; we all hope that is not the case from time to time.  If you get pulled over for speeding for doing 8 or 9 miles over the limit, it is very possible the officer has not made the decision to write a ticket as they are ready to get out of their car.  Very often, your attitude and level of cooperation can make the difference between a warning or citation.

So, my personal feelings on the IC Willys matter?  It is sad that someone who invested a great deal of money is being put out of business.  It is sad that this adds a few more names to the unemployment roles.  However, it is not THAT sad because they did bring this upon themselves.  I don’t feel bad for people whom I have to make homeless when they are standoffish with me.  If I get a speeding ticket because 1) I was speeding AND 2) I was an a**h*** with the officer – I brought that upon myself.

It is sad that the ownership of IC Willys did not realize that by not being willing to cooperate with the neighbors or the police, they were putting their investment and their livelihood at risk.  The fact is they brought this upon themselves. Actions have consequences.  Why was IC Willys on trial and not Break-a-Way or the Polack Inn?  Simply because of those three, IC Willys demonstrated not only a lack of cooperation, but outright contempt.

Do I still think the City was right in not renewing the license?  Yes.  Do I still think other license holders should have had to gone to trial to save their licenses?  Yes.  Do I still wish that laws were enforced black and white?  That, my friend, is a very good question.

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