Brainerd council strikes down measure allowing alcohol in city parks
The measure will likely come back to the council with changes relating to youth events within the next month.
BRAINERD — Despite the presence of alcohol at adult softball games in Memorial Park and around bonfires at the Lum Park Campground, visitors to Brainerd’s parks have not been allowed to bring and consume alcohol.
And they still aren’t.
A vote by the Brainerd City Council to change that rule failed 3-4 Monday, May 15.
The ordinance on the table would have allowed the sale and consumption of alcohol in about half the city’s parks. While city officials recognized consumption already happens in many parks, the proposed ordinance was an effort to both reflect what’s already happening in the parks and allow wider consumption and sale, as some groups expressed interest.
I still enjoy an alcoholic beverage myself from time to time, but … is it going to make your day or break your day if you don’t have access to a beer?
As it stands, alcohol consumption is not allowed in city parks, with the exception of Memorial Park, where city code allows limited on-sale liquor licenses to be granted to professional baseball organizations and concession stand vendors. The consumption of alcohol under that provision is limited to vending structures and seating areas on the premises and only during scheduled adult activities. Spectators and players, however, are not actually allowed to bring their own alcohol into the park for consumption, even though many do so without consequence. City officials noted consumption often takes place at the Lum Park Campground, despite restrictions, as well.
In the ordinance
In the proposal presented to the council Monday night, a club, charitable, religious or other nonprofit organization that has existed for at least three years could apply for a temporary on-sale liquor license to sell alcohol in connection with a social event in one of the city’s parks. Alcohol would not have been allowed, though, in the following parks: Bane, Buster, Gustafson, Hitch-Wayne, Meadows, Mississippi River Landing, O’Brien, Trailside and Triangle.
An event permit would also have to be approved by the City Council, with several conditions being met, like having a liquor license and liability insurance.
To further provide for continued, legal alcohol consumption in the case of Memorial Park softball games and at the Lum Park Campground, consumption would be allowed in all parks except for Buster, Gustafson, Hitch-Wayne, Mississippi River Landing, Trailside and Triangle.
A big part of this is, clearly there’s already this going on. We have to come to the consensus that most of it isn’t actually causing an issue.
The sale of alcohol would not have been allowed during organized youth events under the ordinance, but there was no provision prohibiting the consumption of alcohol during youth events, which was the main problem with the ordinance for council member Kara Terry.
Opposition to the ordinance
When the issue first came up, Terry said she did not want to see a blanket ordinance allowing alcohol in all city parks. She thanked the rest of the council for working with her on that concern and maintaining some alcohol-free parks under the ordinance.
“Early on in our discussion we had talked about the impact of alcohol in the parks around children’s events,” she said, noting events like youth baseball games in Bane Park.
Without prohibiting attendees to those events from bringing in their own alcohol, Terry said she could not support the ordinance.
Her opposition came after two residents spoke against the measure during the public hearing Monday night.
Northeast Brainerd resident and former council member Wayne Erickson, who previously voiced his concerns to the Parks Board, said Brainerd’s parks have been alcohol free for over 150 years and should remain that way, as they are supposed to be places for families.
“I just believe we have enough areas and places for people to consume alcohol,” he said, noting families already have enough issues without adding alcohol to city parks.
As a father and grandfather, Erickson said he couldn’t understand why alcohol needed to be allowed in parks, and he also believed it would put more strain on Brainerd’s already short-staffed police department.
“I don’t know how you can read the paper and listen to the news and not be disturbed by the drugs and alcohol that’s going on in our country,” he said.
If the issue is about nonprofits being able to make money, Erickson said there are better ways for them to do so than selling alcohol in parks.
Resident Marshall Tousignant opposed the measure as well.
“When has drinking ever given us anything good?” he asked the council.
Tousignant said he has seen the downsides of alcohol through doing ministry at the jail and believes history shows it has always been a problem.
“Remember this,” he told the council, “If you pass this, the first casualty is on you guys because you gave it for them to do. Remember that. This is on you guys, nobody else.”
Council member Gabe Johnson was the first to express his support while noting he appreciates the public input and takes it seriously.
If the ordinance were to pass, Johnson said city officials would keep a close eye on what happens and be sure to act quickly if behaviors in the parks change for the worse.
He still supported the measure because he said the bigger issue for him was the lack of clarity in the current ordinance — what sort of use was allowed and what wasn’t.
“Just clearing it up so it’s understandable is important from a starting point,” Johnson said. “And then moving forward, maybe this is too loose. Maybe it’s not restrictive enough. We’ll have to make that decision as we’re growing as a city.”
Council member Jeff Czeczok said he struggled with the issue but tried to listen to all sides.He said he has enjoyed a beer or two at Memorial Park softball games in years past and never saw a problem with anyone becoming inebriated, though he recognized that it could happen.
“I still enjoy an alcoholic beverage myself from time to time, but … is it going to make your day or break your day if you don’t have access to a beer?” Czeczok said of those who want to have beverages at park events.
Council member Mike O’Day said the council could always come back and change the ordinance later, though City Attorney Joe Langel said because the public hearing already happened, the council would have to begin the process over if changes were to be made at this point.
No matter the decision, O’Day pointed to the use that’s already going on without consequence.
“As of right now, there’s softball going on, and I’m sure there’s beer there. The way it looks, it may or not be legal in our city. We’ve kind of just been letting it go,” he said. “There’s probably people that are going to be camping in the campground if they’re not already. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be drinking beer.”
For years, alcohol has been present at firefighter picnics in the city’s parks, O’Day added, noting that’s one of the city’s own departments.
“A big part of this is, clearly there’s already this going on. We have to come to the consensus that most of it isn’t actually causing an issue,” he said.
Recognizing the absence of alcohol at youth sports is still important, O’Day recommended the council pass the ordinance Monday and have staff come back with an amendment prohibiting any alcohol consumption at youth events.
Council member Tiffany Stenglein joined Johnson and O’Day in their support of the measure, while Terry, Czeczok, Kevin Stunek and Kelly Bevans voted in opposition, killing the motion to pass the ordinance 4-3.
Public Works Director Jessie Dehn said he will revise the proposal with a clause prohibiting alcohol at organized youth events and bring it back to the council, likely within the next month.
In the meantime, police department officials will decide if and how they want to enforce the current ordinance.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .