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Fine Wars: Health Code Violations in Question

It sounds like there's some heat between some local restaurateurs and the Denver Department of Environmental Health. The Denver Post reports that some (anonymous) restaurant folks think fines have gotten a little excessive and arbitrary. Examples include not being able to wear a wrist watch on the job and having an empty paper towel dispenser near a hand sink. While some think the fines are bogus, Bob McDonald, a director at the department, says it all comes down to some misunderstandings.

"There are a lot of misunderstandings about what our policies are. One of the most common is that we're assessing fines for violations that are not similar. If there's a critical violation, inspectors do not have the discretion to not write it up — that's the law. It wouldn't be much of an enforcement without a write-up. We give them a warning, then $250 for a critical violation. Are we fining more? Yes. That was the agreement."

Restaurants are currently issued a verbal warning for first critical violation, followed by a $250 fine for second strike and $500 for a third offense. Apparently you can be fined up to $2,000 within a 12-month period if you don't get your act together. Restaurant lobbiest will have the opportunity to duke it out with the Denver Department of Environmental Health tomorrow during a town hall meeting the Colorado Restaurant Association.

· Denver Restaurateurs, Public Health Agency Disagreeing on Violation Enforcement [DP]

El Paso County Health Inspector [Photo: Helen H. Richardson/DP]