Douglass Park community weighs in on possible alcohol ban

Sunday, February 24, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:33 p.m. CST, Monday, February 25, 2013
On Monday, First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt suggested an ordinance that would ban alcohol consumption in Douglass Park. In 2011, the city banned alcohol consumption in three parks: Flat Branch, Village Square and Paquin. Alcohol consumption is legal in all other city parks.

COLUMBIA — When First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt suggested an ordinance Monday that would ban alcohol consumption in Douglass Park, he said he was acting on behalf of his constituents.

Schmidt said Friday he is neither for nor against prohibition in the park. Rather, the councilman said he will support that which the Douglass Park community favors.

Whether the community favors the proposed ordinance, however, is uncertain. Board members of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association are opposed to the idea of prohibition. Furthermore, given that drinking is permitted in all but three city parks, some feel the move would be discriminatory.

Justin Thomas, a former executive board member of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, approached Schmidt with concerns that intoxicated people at the park could lead to confrontation during family-oriented events. Recalling a handful of instances in which those consuming alcohol contributed to escalating arguments, he reasoned that people would feel more comfortable spending time at Douglass if alcohol were not permitted there.

He said he brought the idea to about a dozen neighborhood residents, and most provided positive feedback.

But when Thomas asked neighborhood association secretary Tyree Byndom via email whether the association would support a ban on alcohol, Byndom did not agree.

"We've considered this and talked about it with no conclusion," Byndom wrote, according to a copy of the correspondence provided to the Missourian.

The executive board of the neighborhood association is preparing to deliberate on the ordinance at its next meeting, March 3.

Anthony Stanton, vice chair of the neighborhood association, said prohibition of alcohol should be discussed citywide. 

"If we're going to address this in Douglass," Stanton said, "We need to address it in all parks." 

A precedent for park-specific regulation does exist. In 2011, the city prohibited alcohol in several center city parks — Flat Branch, Paquin and Village Square — after law enforcement was unable to curtail instances of clearly intoxicated or passed out visitors. Due to their proximity to the Special Business District, the downtown parks were deemed a special case; alcohol remains legal in all other city parks.

Douglass Park, located at Providence and Worley, is within a stone's throw of the downtown area. Mike Hood, director of Columbia's Parks and Recreation Department, said it is a neighborhood park and also a community landmark.

Debra Gentry, chairperson of the neighborhood association, highlighted Douglass' role as a neighborhood gathering place first and foremost. Gentry moved to Columbia in 1981. Despite knowing no one, she gravitated to the park.

"It's the one place that minorities go, the only park that hosts functions that attend to me and my culture," Gentry said.

But Gentry rarely goes to the park anymore. When she was younger, the constant police presence "felt like intimidation," she said.

Stanton echoed that point but acknowledged that Douglass has room to improve. That improvement, he said, will come much more readily if driven by positive rather than negative reinforcement. Positive programs, be they baseball or impromptu DJ sets, bring positive people, he said.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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Mark Flakne February 24, 2013 | 10:26 a.m.

To say that alcohol was banned in the three downtown parks due to the police being "unable to curtail instances of clearly intoxicated or passed out visitors" is a little misleading. Alcohol was banned in these three parks due to the presence of bums and panhandlers passing out and/or sleeping in the parks. Flat Branch Park was the most used of the three due to its location along Flat Branch Creek, a homeless thoroughfare.

These were not simply average visitors who happened into the park, got drunk, and passed out.

Since vagrancy and panhandling is not a problem in Douglass Park, the alcohol ban in these three parks does not set precedent that would allow for a ban in Douglass Park.

From the City Council discussion on banning alcohol in 3 downtown parks...

"Mr. Sturtz asked if he could respond to concerns that this restriction would simply move people to another area in the downtown. Chief Burton replied that was a real possibility, which would be monitored, but if they moved to a different park, they would lose the ability to panhandle since people would not be around. Mr. Sturtz asked if any progress was being made with regard to offering treatment and transporting these offenders to places where they might get help. Chief Burton replied he did not believe there were any facilities of that nature, so they were just taken to a holding facility being attended to by a police officer until they were sober."

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne February 24, 2013 | 10:34 a.m.

It is important to point out -- perhaps Justin Thomas will read this -- that public drunkenness and disorderly conduct are already crimes. Criminalizing the consumption of alcohol for the overwhelming majority of park visitors who do not cause problems is a terrible idea.

I would also argue that Fred Schmidt sounds like he supports the ordinance. He's just backpedaling after being called out for this paternalist plan.

Here are his comments.

Here is the blog that prompted Fred's backpedaling

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2013 | 12:04 p.m.

Mark: I watched your video of Mr. Schmidt.

Quite frankly, I heard little that was "alarming" (your interpretation and use of the word). The councilman simply said he had been in contact with affected neighbors and apparently they perceived some sort of problem with alcohol within the park. Mr. Schmidt proposed getting the discussion started with the makings of a [potential] ordinance. That discussion, involving many folks, the council, police chief, and parks/rec, would first identify if there even WAS a problem.

From the evidence available to me, it seems Mr. Schmidt was simply responding to some constituent concerns. Is this not what he is supposed to be doing? Would it have been right for him to ignore what citizens are concerned about?

Your "Keep Columbia Free" blog on this is what seemed "alarming" and an overreaction. It is entirely possible there is more info of which I am unaware, but you certainly didn't make the case (to me) in your blog and with the video. Indeed, your argument seemed more like a giant leap from some constituent concerns to full-blown racism in one fell swoop.

Sorry, but that's my interpretation of what you wrote. I generally support your words but this seems overblown and hyperbolic without further clarification.

PS: The argument that forbidding alcohol in Douglas while not doing so in other parks is evidence of discrimination falls on my deaf ears. I have never been in favor of making some sort of uniform solution for which all have to pay in order to solve a localized problem It smacks of a poor manager who, afraid to confront a problem employee, avoids the personal confrontation by dictating some sort of uniform corporate response to a localized problem. Either there is a problem in Douglas (or other parks) or their isn't. If there is a uniform problem, deal with it uniformly. If there is a local problem, deal with it locally. Otherwise, it's cowardice and an abrogation of managerial responsibilities.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas February 24, 2013 | 12:46 p.m.


I did read this, and I thought drunk and disorderly conduct were already crimes. I appreciate your references to paternalism, racism, and the overwhelming majority of visitors to the park. Are you aware of any drunk and disorderly conduct in the park? Are you aware of this conduct being addressed? Are you implying that the overwhelming majority of visitors to the park consume alcohol while they are there? I don't understand how it is that you think park visitors who do not consume alcohol while they are there, the overwhelming majority, will be negatively affected by the regulation of open containers in the park.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates February 24, 2013 | 2:16 p.m.

Second grade leadership..if one of you misbehaves, nobody gets recess..........

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne February 24, 2013 | 2:56 p.m.

I would understand if Schmidt had proposed some public meetings or interested party meetings to discuss the possibility of banning alcohol in Douglass Park, but proposing an ordinance is not required to trigger these meetings.

The charge of "racism" was not made by me, but by several Black residents of the first ward. In fact, the blog I penned was inspired by a meeting I was in with these very folks the night before. It does, however, stike me as strange that this charge is being led by three white men -- Thomas, Sessions, and Schmidt -- apparently with the blessing of Chief Burton, another white man.

I spent a great deal of time in Douglass Park, albeit a few years ago, when I worked for the Parks and Rec Aquatics department. The problems were the same then as they are now.

Justin, if there is indeed drunk and disorderly conduct in the park, the existing laws should be enforced. If the existing laws are not being enforced, therein lies your problem. Passing more laws will not improve enforcement. If your dreams of a Puritanically cleansed Douglass is to come to fruition, it won't happen with more laws.

I would encourage you to re-read my post above, paying close attention to exactly what I wrote. I did not imply that the overwhelming majority of park visitors consume alcohol. I plainly stated that of those who do consume alcohol, the overwhelming majority do not cause problems.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2013 | 3:34 p.m.

MarkF: Your denial has no standing. The charge of racism was indeed leveled by you. You are the one who introduced:

"...a park frequented by Columbia’s vibrant African-American community and a popular meeting place for area residents.

Did Fred Schmidt intentionally make this proposal during Black History Month?"

Further, you wrote, "For sure it smacks of the white, liberal paternalism that Columbia has endured for the last several decades, especially in the First Ward that surrounds Douglass Park."

And then this: "I guess Fred and Jonathan just don’t trust Black folks with dangerous fire water. I wonder if they trust Black folks to sit in the front of a FastCat bus."

No, your blog fully introduced AND aggravated the notion of racism on this topic. As for the 4 involved white men, hopefully you do not also conclude that only caucasian folks live in the area and that such folk should just shut up even tho they in the game.

I don't think you helped yourself, the situation, the topic, the discussion, or your blog at all.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2013 | 3:52 p.m.

Further, I don't give a crap whether Douglas is "a park frequented by Columbia’s vibrant African-American community" or female christian Japanese-Irish rugby players who like chanting "Free Willie!" on a Douglas Park picnic table.

If there are problems, identify and deal with the problems. If there are local problems, pose a local solution. If there are city-wide problems, post a uniform solution. INTRODUCING THE ETHNICITY OF A GROUP DOES NOT HELP ONE DAMN BIT!

In fact, it shuts people up.

What is the purpose for doing this: Political leverage or sympathy?

If so, you'll get neither from me...just for using that strategy in the first place.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance February 24, 2013 | 6:00 p.m.

Mike W,

It's called bullying demagoguery. Someone who wants to make a name for themselves by targeting a person that doesn't agree with them. Introduce a bunch of strawmen issues and then blog about them. Seen it before, these gadflies come and go over time by their own hand due to hyperbolic and irrelevant statements such as those you highlighted.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas February 24, 2013 | 7:38 p.m.

Let's add the other properties to that map where open containers are illegal...Douglass High School, Jefferson Junior High School, Columbia Housing Authority (if I'm not mistaken).

Mark, some laws are more difficult to enforce than others; I think this is what is alluded to in your opening comment. I'm sure you don't think that I think that piling laws on top of laws is a solution, or that I can force anyone to do anything. Thank goodness for bureaucracy. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I rarely remember my dreams, but I think you're heading down a paternalistic rabbit hole here. If there are problems, as you seem to admit, and they are the same as they were before, surely you don't think we should maintain the status quo.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 24, 2013 | 11:01 p.m.

TimD: Let's be clear...I almost always agree with Mark.

But I'm as unhappy with his blog on this topic as I am the folks he talked to that rushed onto the racist boat with the "if you ban it in Douglas, but not elsewhere, the reason MUST be racism!"

Horsehockey to both.

I'm decidedly NOT unhappy with Mr Schmidt, and...hell...I almost NEVER agree with him. I thought his video comments were just fine, dandy, thoughtful, and respectful of constituent concerns. In fact, I'm betting (but don't know for sure) that he was reflecting the thoughts and concerns of many silent, wonderful folks afraid of backlash from those who DO yell racism at the drop of a hat.

It sickens me, all these false cries of "racism" from multiple quarters. The word has become a first-use term, used right out of the chute to gain some sort of stupid moral high ground and bring the conversation to a halt.

THIS is exactly why this topic will be cussed and discussed a hundred years from now. There will be no improvement and there will be no change. People will hate one another for a thousand years.

For all these reasons, you'll never find me on any sort of commission to help solve a problem that...obviously, given their behavior...most do not want solved anyway. Why bother? In the face of such tactics, give me one good reason I should participate.

I gave up on this topic a decade ago and can't believe I'm writing about it right now. I'm about to get locked out anyway.........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 25, 2013 | 8:29 p.m.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more eqaul than others." - "Animal Farm"

Socialism and Communism explained in 12 words.

(Report Comment)

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