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Without liquor license, Kenai Elks Lodge loses revenue stream, lays off five

For decades, really almost a half-century, the Kenai Elks Lodge has been a charitable powerhouse in the city of Kenai. But some of that largess is in danger because of a comedy of errors between the Elks and the State of Alaska.

Besides being a nice place for members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks to congregate, perhaps over dinner or a libation after work, the Kenai Elks Lodge has long been dedicated to service, charity and scholarships in the city. However a paperwork snafu in Juneau left it without a valid liquor license for almost all of last year.

Mary Jackson is the chair of the Kenai Elks Lodge board of directors and the president of the local Elks nonprofit organization.

“What was in fact the case is that the state got our check in December 2016, and kept our check and never returned our check. So that's usually the first indicator that you have a deal, you know, they keep your check. The second indicator from my perspective, was I went online and there was a posting online from AMCO Division entities are all licensed, and there was Kenai Elks Lodge," she said. "So I figured, OK, a, they have our check, they kept our check; b, they show on their own website that we're licensed, so the only thing that they didn't do was send me the little white paper. We were incorrect. Just that simple. So, they shut us down, we filed for reinstatement, they denied it.”

And here we are.

Jackson said she and other officers of the Elks hustled to file in time for the January meeting of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, but even though a temporary license was issued, a permanent one-year license was denied and the temporary one was revoked because the state it was issued by mistake. Jackson has issues with how all of that was handled.

“I want to be very clear here: I have sympathy for some what they’re doing. My concern is that we relied from information from AMCO, their own site that said, 'we have a license.' That was absolutely ignored," Jackson said. "They put out absolutely incorrect information that we relied on, and our distributors relied on and anybody who went on line to look to see if we were licensed. You know, whose fault is that?”

Jackson says the Elks sent all of their paperwork in for the April meeting of the AMCO, which will be held in Nome, adding that it was all sent certified, something that both the Elks and State failed to do on some of their correspondence over the past year resulting in a lack of a paper trail.

Meanwhile, five people who were employed at the Elks Lodge are out of a job. The lodge is still open, Jackson said, but no alcohol can be served, just soda pop and iced tea.

Two members of the Kenai City Council are members of the Elks Lodge and brought forth a resolution urging the AMCO board to look favorably on the Elks’ application. They voted unanimously, and in an unusual move, all of them signed the resolution as well, in a show of unity.

An light exchange with the city attorney cleared the two councilmen who were Elk members from conflicts of interest, as well as Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel who disclosed that he received a college scholarship from the Elks when he was a Kenai Central High School graduate some 40-years ago.

Jackson told the council that the Elks have budgeted $1,000 for scholarships this school year despite the drastic cut in revenue until sometime in April at least.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the calculated $750,000 the Kenai Elks have contributed in scholarships, cash and in-kind over the past seven years.

One of the things that really got Councilman Tim Navarre hot under the collar was what he saw as unfair treatment of a benevolent community organization that has been a good community citizen.

“I am so mad as heck. This would be so different if they had done something wrong such as served underaged or over served people drinks and they were running out in the community causing problems and that," Navarre said. "And this is after being in business for 40-plus years with a liquor license.”

In an ironic twist, Councilman Tim Navarre’s brother, Commissioner Mike Navarre, head of the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, will be one of the dozen or so people who will be on the receiving end of the city’s letter and resolution, because the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office is a division in his department.