Alcohol sales in park considered

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:16 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — A new policy allowing alcohol sales in eight of Columbia’s city parks has the City Council standing in opposition to one of its advisory boards. But there is something the groups do agree on: The issue needs public input.

The 5-1 vote by the City Council at Monday night’s meeting directed staff to draft a resolution and set the date for a public hearing. The decision came on the heels of a July 19 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, where the commission members voted unanimously not to approve the draft policy that was presented to them.

“This policy as written really does work in detriment with what our mission is as a board and in detriment to our parks and to our users,” said Marin Blevins, vice chair of the commission, at the July meeting.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade agreed and was the only council member who voted against the motion.

“I think they got it right,” he said on Monday, referring to the commission. “I believe it is not supportive of our message and that endorsing public consumption of alcohol is a bad decision.”

Karl Skala, Third Ward councilman, said he was troubled by the potential for hypocrisy that exists when people are allowed to drink alcohol in parks but not buy it.

“If you are going to be consistent and you oppose the ordinance that aims to sell alcohol in parks, it seems logical that you would also oppose the existing ordinance that allows people to consume it,” Skala said.

Before voting on the motion that would allow staff to bring the policy one step closer to reality, the council looked over a 17-page staff report. In the report were the minutes from the Parks and Recreation Commission where the commission members outlined concerns they had with the draft policy.

“Personally, I am most concerned with it (the permit process) being ironclad,” Blevins said. “In terms of it being controlled, No. 1, and not being a detriment to our community, No. 2 — like if something bad were to happen at an event that was sanctioned by the city.”

Despite the fact that the City Council voted to continue with a policy that its advisory board disapproved of, Blevins said it will do whatever is in the community’s best interest.

The City Council first directed staff to draft a policy in 2006, after the Columbia Art League wanted wine tastings at its Art in the Park event. Diana Moxon, executive director of the Columbia Art League, said the policy regarding the sale of alcohol would benefit event coordinators.

“I think it’s great and gives organizers wider options to find corporate sponsors. Whether they are selling beer or wine, it lets a nonprofit event appeal to a greater audience.”

But Maxon stressed the need for event directors to take the proper steps to ensure the safety of those who attend.

Becky Markt, coordinator for the Youth Community Coalition, said that if the policy is approved it would negatively affect youth.

“Taking this one last bastion of alcohol-free fun away would serve to reinforce the message that there is no way to have fun without alcohol,” Markt said.

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