Who knew that Jell-O could run for City Council in Cape Girardeau?
At least I think the City Council is made of Jell-O. Or I suppose they could be jellyfish, or maybe a worm. Whatever they are, they're definitely something without a spine.
That was my initial reaction when I read that the council granted Mollie's Restaurant a liquor license this week even though the owners of the business, John and Jerrianne Wyman, along with the company they own -- Merriwether Investments -- have yet to pay a large part of their 2008 property taxes. To be fair, they have paid some.
But as of Tuesday, they still owed nearly $68,000 in property taxes on 26 downtown properties and the city ordinances on granting liquor licenses are pretty clear. It says:
"No liquor license shall be issued to any person, until all personal property taxes, merchants license taxes, ad valorem taxes, wholesalers license taxes, manufacturers license taxes, occupation license taxes, sewer service charges, water service charges, solid waste fees, or other city taxes, fees or charges, including special tax bills and assessments of the applicant therefor, due and payable, shall first have been paid in full, together with any interest and penalties."
That pretty much covers everything. It is interesting that it doesn't specifically mention property taxes, but then the phrase "other city taxes" is pretty inclusive.
The Wymans appear to have gotten around this rule by forming a Limited Liability Corporation -- Mollies, LLC -- specifically for the restaurant. It's a company, not a person and the ordinance does say "any person." And while the Wymans do own a lot of downtown property, they don't own the building where Mollie's is located, just the business.
According to the story in the Wednesday Southeast Missourian, the city is treating Mollie's LLC as a "new separate legal entity."
However, paperwork filed with the Missouri Secretary of State shows that this brand-new business, Mollies LLC, and Merriwether Investments, Inc., which is legally responsible for a large part of that approximately $68,000 tax bill, have the exact same physical address -- 400 Broadway Suite 200. They might now be two legally separate business entities, but anyone can see that it is the exact same ownership.
This is baffling. What the heck was the bowl full of Jell-O that occupies the city hall every other Monday night thinking when they approved this liquor license? But then the answer occurred to me.
The Wymans are our GM. They're our AIG. They are Cape's own miniature version of Fannie May and Freddie Mac. And we certainly don't want another Renaissance Aircraft debacle.
We should recognize that the Wymans are just too big to fail.
They own a lot of downtown commercial property. If they were to go under from not paying their property taxes, their tenants might not survive. And if enough of their tenants failed or relocated, it could devastate the downtown district, making it a perfect breeding ground for -- Dare I say it? -- a homeless shelter.
And if the Wymans are financially stretched from the dismal state of the economy and from owning too many properties with too little cash-flow, then we all need to cut them some slack and overlook the obvious truth that this is the same business with the exact same ownership and believe what the lawyers tell us to believe, that this is all perfectly legal and above-board.
So I guess my initial reaction was wrong.
The City Council is not being spineless. They're just being prudent and proactive. And for that reason, I'm planning on toasting them for being so far-sighted the next time I'm at Happy Hour.
City Council, this Jell-O shot is for you!