Westbrook officials narrowly approved the renewal of Mill Side Tavern’s liquor license Monday, with the condition that the bar saves the tapes from its video surveillance camera and makes them available to police.

Police initially recommended the council deny the license because of the owners’ failure to provide a tape from a night when a fight broke out at the bar, sending one person through a glass window and spilling out into the street.

However, after subsequent meetings with the owners, Police Chief Bill Baker changed his recommendation to a conditional approval.

Municipal Officers, which include city councilors and the mayor, granted the approval Monday in a 3-2 vote, with councilors Brendan Rielly and John O’Hara opposed.

Councilors Suzanne Joyce, Dotty Aube and Mike Foley were absent from the meeting.

The license was up for renewal at the council’s July 6 meeting, but officers tabled the issue until Monday to give owners William and Patricia Kowalski the opportunity to try to recover the footage from the tape.

Despite the police chief’s change in recommendation, before the vote Monday, the Kowalskis made clear their displeasure in dealing with the police department and having to defend the license at all.

They insisted that police didn’t request the tape for two weeks after the incident occurred, though, according to Mayor Bruce Chuluda, an officer said he asked for the tape on the night of the fight, and an employee refused to hand it over to him.

“We did in earnest try to keep the tapes for them. What did we get for it?” William Kowalski said – to have to defend themselves at two council meetings, he added.

The surveillance camera was installed in May after police met with the Kowalskis about a concern regarding the number of calls for service made from the bar. Police had been considering recommending the council deny the bar’s food service license, which was up for renewal at the time. Denying a food service license would effectively shut down the bar, because state law requires food to be sold wherever liquor is sold.

But the owners promised to keep in close contact with police and install the surveillance camera. Reassured by that agreement, the department recommended approval of the license.

Still, at the meeting, William Kowalski said he didn’t think the condition added to the liquor license approval was fair.

“We’re not required to have this,” he told the council, raising his voice. “I’m ready to pull the camera system out.”

Chuluda tried to calm Kowalski.

“This body wants to grant you a license,” he said. “It’s water under the dam.”

But the owners insisted on making their frustrations known. Patricia Kowalski said she couldn’t understand why the officers approved a liquor license for the Stockhouse Restaurant, which had calls for service for what she thought were more serious incidents, without any discussion at the July meeting.

“I feel we’re being picked on by the police department,” she said.

There were no members of the department present at the meeting Monday. However, in an e-mail to Administrative Assistant Michelle Mecteaux on July 30, Baker wrote: “It should be made clear that as a condition of their license it is their responsibility in the wake of any disturbance or criminal behavior to call us; allow us immediate access to the video; preserve and copy the video before it gets taped over.”

“Any further violations of the spirit of this agreement through their lack of cooperation will result in suspension or revocation of their license,” Baker wrote.

That e-mail, William Kowalski said, wasn’t given to him until two minutes before the meeting.

“That’s how much we’re kept in the loop,” he said.

Just before the vote, Kowalski clarified that his frustrations weren’t with the councilors or mayor, but with the police department.

“It’s just the way this went down,” he said.

The Mill Side Tavern on Cumberland Street in Westbrook will keep its liquor license, but will also have to keep its surveillance camera and make all tapes available to police. (Leslie Bridgers photo)

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