If you haven’t been paying attention to the saga of whether “Peanuts” convenience store in Red Bay did, or did not, receive a liquor license to sell alcohol on Sundays, now might be a good time to secure a front row seat.
Until recently, the issue has focused largely on abstruse and labyrinthine regulations of interest mainly to lawyers, their clients, bureaucrats and an assortment of nearly anonymous volunteer board members who rarely, if ever, see their names in the newspaper.
All that is about to change.
If you are one of those Johnny-come-latelies who do not follow baseball until the World Series or football until the World Cup, we can assure you it’s not too late to get up to speed on the Peanuts fiasco. It’s about to get very interesting.
At the Compass, just when we think we’ve heard everything there is to hear about the Peanuts license, new revelations, often in the form of leaked documents, “appear” on our desks.
The latest batch introduced a new cast of characters – in particular, Governor Helen Kilpatrick, former Commerce Minister Wayne Panton, and the Cayman Ministers’ Association. They join the other players who include current Commerce Minister Joey Hew, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, the Internal Audit Unit (which, at the request of Messrs. Hew and Manderson, is investigating this whole matter), the members of the Liquor Board, and, of course, Woody DaCosta, former acting-chairman of the Liquor Board. Mr. DaCosta recently was removed from his post as acting-chairman.
Let’s pick up the story here:
March 24 and 28 – The board considers Gary Rutty’s application for a “retail license” that would allow Peanuts to sell alcohol on Sunday. According to the original “draft” version of the meeting minutes, the board approved the retail license for Peanuts. However, the “finalized” version of the minutes suggests the board denied the license.
March 28 – The Cayman Ministers’ Association (an influential group representing the country’s churches) writes to Governor Kilpatrick, saying the group was “extremely concerned” about potential expansion of Sunday alcohol sales, especially at petrol stations.
April 4 – Governor Kilpatrick responds to the Ministers’ Association, saying that she “agree[d] that this issue needs to be considered with common sense, given the harm that alcohol can cause and particularly combined with driving.” The governor said she had forwarded the letter to Commerce Minister Panton, whose purview includes the Liquor Licensing Board. She added she would also forward the letter to Premier Alden McLaughlin.
April 6 – Mr. DaCosta, who is Mr. Panton’s brother-in-law, sends an email to then-board secretary Marva Scott and other board members which read, “Please embargo all licenses until our press release and policy is in place as we all discussed at the very last quarterly meeting.”
Mid-June – Mr. DaCosta claims the board held an “electronic meeting” during which the board members turned down Peanuts’ retail license application. (No written record of this meeting exists, in either the “draft” or “finalized” versions of the minutes.)
Mr. Panton told the Compass he received the letter forwarded to him by Governor Kilpatrick but took no action. “This was in the throes of the election,” he explained. For her part, Governor Kilpatrick adamantly denied any intent to pressure Mr. Panton, Cabinet or anyone else into action.
We take the governor at her word, but she must be aware that any correspondence bearing the seal of the “Office of the Governor” carries with it inordinate gravitas, if not influence. It’s not like receiving a flier in the mail from Foster’s Food Fair.
We would wager that Governor Kilpatrick in retrospect would agree with us that she should not have involved herself in any way in this issue. When she received the “lobbying letter” from the Ministers’ Association, she should have simply written them back, thanked them for their correspondence, and informed them to re-address their letter to the Minister of Commerce, Mr. Wayne Panton.
In other words, “Have a nice day. I’m not getting involved in this.”
Despite the murkiness of this ever-unfolding drama, readers can look forward to some clarity, if not resolution, next week when the Internal Audit Unit is expected to finalize its investigative report. The Compass, we can assure you, will be first in line for our copy when it is made public.