Clark Hall Pub closed indefinitely

Employee contracts terminated, pub shut down due to stakeholder concerns

Engineering Society President Charlie Scott surveys the bar at the empty Clark Hall Pub.
Engineering Society President Charlie Scott surveys the bar at the empty Clark Hall Pub.
Photo: 
Erin Hall, Clark’s former business manager, said Clark’s books don’t have financial discrepancies.
Erin Hall, Clark’s former business manager, said Clark’s books don’t have financial discrepancies.
Photo: 

The Engineering Society executive closed Clark Hall Pub indefinitely as of June 29, ending all employee and supplier contracts.

Rob MacNamara, EngSoc vice-president (operations), said financial discrepancies, concerns about the pub’s operation and concerns from Clark’s insurers and liquor license holder led him to close the pub.

MacNamara said he made the decision after speaking with the executive, EngSoc board members and members of the administration, including Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services and Clark’s liquor license holder.

“Unfortunately it was a decision I had to make,” he said. “For years, [poor operations and] circumstances have been accumulating and compounding. … This was a fairly climactic year where a decision had to happen.”

Charlie Scott, EngSoc president, said the bar won’t re-open in September.

Scott said he doesn’t think the executive needed council approval to close the pub, and decided to close the pub because he thought Griffiths or the AMS might close it if they didn’t take action. According to EngSoc policy, council can’t vote on anything during its summer meeting.

“If the AMS or the University shut down the pub for us, we had the feeling it wouldn’t be able to come back as Clark Hall Pub in the same way,” he said. “We’d have to accommodate whoever took whatever away from us. This gives us control over where Clark will go in the future.”

***

At the end of April, Clark Hall Pub’s head manager resigned. EngSoc executive began to talk about the future of the pub at the beginning of May. Scott said the option of closing was always on the table.

EngSoc executive interviewed candidates for the head manager position in mid-June, but didn’t hire anyone because MacNamara was going on vacation and didn’t want to make a decision before he left. As well, they weren’t sure at the time what the pub’s fate would be.

Scott said a June 15 incident at a Queen’s Players show heightened the need for an operational change at Clark.

During the show’s intermission, a patron knocked down a stone pillar just outside the pub doors. He said bar staff called campus security, who filed an incident report.

On June 25, Scott and MacNamara attended a meeting with Griffiths, Joel Keenleyside from campus security and John McDiarmid, retail operations officer for the AMS. At that meeting, Griffiths and McDiarmid expressed serious concerns with how the bar was being run.

Griffiths told the Journal that, if an inspector had been there that night, the Queen’s Players incident could have caused Clark’s liquor license to be suspended or revoked due to riotous or drunken behaviour.

“Upon reviewing staffing levels for that evening, in my opinion there were too few,” he said. “It only takes one incident to have your license suspended.”

Griffiths said he’s also concerned about how ritual is run and he has raised those concerns every year to university administration and students. Ritual is a weekly gathering of engineers at Clark Hall Pub on Friday afternoons from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Griffiths said he was concerned because students would leave ritual intoxicated and they sometimes needed SciCon supervision in the cafeteria.

“If people are overserved, it’s not safe.”

Griffiths said he didn’t tell Scott and MacNamara they had to close the pub. But if they didn’t recognize the need for a substantial change, he said, he would have taken action that could have involved revoking Clark’s right to use the University’s liquor license.

“It’s not so much, ‘If you don’t, I will,’ … but it’s always better when students take care of their own business.

“I suppose you could call that pressure.”

McDiarmid also raised concerns about Clark’s insurance, held by the AMS since 2004.

John Manning, AMS vice-president (operations), said he discussed the possibility of Clark’s closure with the EngSoc executive, but the executive made the final decision.

He said there was no trigger incident that caused the AMS’s concern but he was worried about financial discrepancies in the pub’s operation.

“The AMS has had the same concerns about Clark for years, and they are that it’s difficult to operate a pub as a student,” he said. “All pubs deal with issues of over-consumption, over-capacity and security.”

MacNamara decided to close the pub on June 27. Two days later, an official notification e-mail was sent from Scott to pub staff and suppliers terminating their employment and contracts.

EngSoc executive sent another e-mail July 3, this time to all society members, telling them the pub was closed indefinitely.

***

MacNamara said EngSoc will commission and pay for a review of Clark’s finances because the amount of money in the pub’s bank account doesn’t match its projected revenue set out in the budget.

But Erin Hall, the pub’s business manager until last month, said the books are balanced and there’s no money missing.

“We’re confident the budget is fine the way it is and the finances are fine the way they are,” she said. “An audit will tell you your books match [your] bank account, and I know they do.” MacNamara said he doesn’t know how much money should be in Clark’s account.

“I would suggest straying away from accurate figures,” he said. “There are no accurate figures right now.”

“We do not have any idea how the financial operations of the pub were last year.”

MacNamara said he doesn’t know what past years’ finances for Clark are like either.

“We don’t know how the money flowed,” he said. “There is a fairly significant flaw in the system.”

MacNamara said EngSoc won’t be reviewing previous years’ accounting in Clark’s financial review.

“I feel like it would be most useful just for this year, simply because it’s too expensive [to go further back].” MacNamara said EngSoc executive has met with five accounting firms but has yet to decide which will conduct a financial review of Clark Hall Pub. He said he hopes they will decide before the end of summer.

Scott said the society decided to commission a review instead of a more extensive audit because an audit would likely be too expensive. He said a financial review will be thorough enough.

“Depending on who you talk to, [an audit] could cost $20,000,” he said. “I didn’t think a full audit was worth that when a review could tell us what we need to know.”

An audit would examine not only the financial records of the business, but also internal control procedures such as computer security.

Scott said he’s also received offers of help from alumni. An alumnus might do the review instead of a firm, he said. It would have to be someone who is qualified to do chartered accounting and they’d have to be paid by EngSoc for it to be considered official chartered work.

“Alumni [are] always better and cheaper than paying a firm,” he said.

MacNamara said he met with Professor McConomy from the School of Business on July 26 to review last year’s books.

“He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the financial information he was reviewing. But he hasn’t sent me his official response yet,” he said. “Ideally, my timeline is to sort out the finances by the end of the summer.”

***

Along with managers and staff, EngSoc’s Science Constables, who oversee events such as the annual Grease Pole, also lost their jobs because they’re considered pub staff.

Scott said Frosh Week and the Grease Pole will go forward in September.

“The only thing that’s going to change is how it’s planned,” he said. “There should be no changes for frosh and FRECs.”

He said the executive will decide how Frosh Week will unfold by Aug. 15, when Dean of Applied Science Kimberly Woodhouse has to sign the approval forms.

Hall said he and MacNamara asked for her opinion regarding possible courses of action. These included starting up a separate SciCon service, asking former staff to work Frosh Week events on a contract basis or hiring AMS Student Constables.

Hall said they haven’t told her what option they’re going ahead with, but she thinks there are difficulties with each option.

“They can’t properly hire and train [new SciCons] before Frosh Week,” she said. “They also asked me, in terms of the [Grease] Pole, whether I’d be willing to work it and what the sentiment of staff was. I said no. If you are going to contract us, we’re not going to do it for $8 an hour.”

She said former staff would expect more money, and hiring StuCons would also be more expensive.

“StuCons have said there’s no way they’ll do the Pole,” she said. “I said [to the executive], ‘I can’t give you a solution to the Pole.’”

Ritual is another longstanding Queen’s engineering tradition the pub’s closure has jeopardized.

MacNamara said it’s possible ritual won’t happen in the upcoming school year because he doesn’t know when the pub will reopen.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to ritual,” he said. “I’d say it’s a possibility, but it’s something we need to look into.”

—With files from Erin Flegg

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.