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City continues its efforts to curb problem deli stores

A multifaceted effort in City Hall to deal with certain deli stores that critics say create nuisances in the community and promote criminal activity continued Friday.
Members of the Common Council, who field complaints from their constituents about the stores, tried to get more information, while lawyers for a deli and the city participated in a hearing, arguing whether a store in University Heights should stay open.
The city has tried to crack down on the stores and conducted a six-month sting, selling stolen goods to deli workers. Twenty stores were shut down, but about 10 were allowed to open again pending hearings in front of an administrative law judge.
When the city pulls a deli's license to operate, the store owners can ask for a hearing.
An administrative law judge then makes a recommendation to the city's commissioner of permits and inspections regarding whether the store should stay open.
One such hearing that could have shed light on how the city deals with deli stores it is trying to shut down, and the deli owners' perspective on their situation, was closed to a reporter Friday.
Inside a small hearing room, lawyers made their case for whether a deli in the University District should stay open. Several police officers and city inspectors testified.
A lawyer for the deli, Jonathan Schapp, cited past coverage of the delis as a reason why a reporter shouldn't be allowed to listen to the proceedings.
The administrative law judge, Daniel Wisniewski, said that in 26 years, he never had a request from a member of the news media to cover them and relied on past practice in making his decision to close it.
Such hearings are quasi-judicial in nature and are not covered by the state's Open Meetings Law.
However, a 1983 decision from the Court of Appeals noted that administrative proceedings are presumed to be open unless there is a compelling reason for closure, according to an advisory opinion written by Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.
Wisniewski said if the Common Council would like such hearings to be open to reporters, it should make a rule to that effect.
University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said she had hoped the hearing would give the public some understanding of why delis that are shut down by police are then reopened.
Meanwhile, Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk submitted a resolution asking the city Law Department for an update on the stores that have been closed and reopened.