De Soto City Council votes to continue alcohol ban at Community Center
In a decision it was told could threaten the existence of a popular community festival, the De Soto City Council voted last Thursday to maintain the ban on alcohol at the Community Center.
The ban was upheld by a 3-2 margin that might not survive the seating of a new City Council later this month. The ban was made official in 2001 after then-City Administrator Gerald Cooper called the Council's attention to problems at the Community Center during events that included alcohol. Rather than take new action, the Council chose to enforce the existing ordinance forbidding alcoholic beverages on city property at the Community Center.
Duke Neeland brought the issue to the Council anew at its March 20 meeting, when he requested the Council lift the ban for the De Soto Cinco de Mayo Celebration. At that time, the Council directed staff to establish a policy governing the use of alcohol at the Community Center rather than make an exception for the festival.
City Attorney Patrick Reavey and City Administrator Greg Johnson said in creating the ordinance they sought to balance two goals. They attempted to address past alcohol-related problems at the Community Center with higher fees, stricter security demands and higher cleanup standards. At the same time, they said it wasn't their intent to make the fees unaffordable.
Still, Reavey said the proposed ordinance was designed to make renters serious about protecting city property.
"If you want alcohol, you're going to have to think about this, and you are going to have to put up serious money," he said.
The proposed ordinance would:
- Require a $400 deposit (twice that of groups renting the center for non-alcohol events.)
- Require renters to hire one security officer for every 100 people in attendance. The security officers would be from a list pre-approved by the city.
- Hire a cleanup service from a pre-approved list of providers.
- Require five signatures from organizers agreeing to be responsible for damage.
In addition to the ordinance establishing the alcohol-use policy at the center, Reavey provided the Council with an ordinance that would have amended the city's ordinance banning alcohol on all city property to allow for its use at the Community Center.
Mayor Dave Anderson introduced the issue with reference to a recent phone call from Dorothy Nalley opposing an end to the ban on the grounds adults should set an example for children.
Neeland said he was puzzled by what he felt was the Council's change in direction.
"When I talked with you about this two weeks ago, nobody had a problem with it," he said. "Now it seems like because you've gotten a few phone calls you're thinking the other way. I could have had tons of people call you in favor of this if I had known that was what was going to matter."
As he had two weeks earlier, Neeland reminded the Council the city had no problems with the two Cinco de Mayo Celebrations that served alcohol. He said the event was important in building bridges to De Soto's growing Hispanic population. It earned De Soto good publicity in the metro area and was good for the city's businesses.
The alcohol ban threatened all that, Neeland said, because revenue from the sale of beer allowed organizers to hire the entertainment that brought in crowds. The committee has already been forced to schedule fund-raisers, and the event's dance at venues outside of De Soto that allowed alcohol, he said.
The same was true of other groups with an interest in renting the Community Center, Council members John Taylor and Emil Urbanek said. The annual alumni dance, class reunions and other large events are forced to look elsewhere.
"I think we're losing functions that would bring a lot of business to town, and we're (the city) losing revenue," he said.
The city's policies appeared to be aimed at protecting the gym's floor at the expense of other uses, thus preventing many De Soto taxpayers access to a facility they paid to renovate, Urbanek said.
De Soto lacked other large meeting areas suitable for large gatherings, Taylor said.
In defense of the ban, Council member Linda Zindler said the Community Center was a multi-purpose facility. Alcohol use was incompatible with City Hall, the senior center and Multi-Service Center that share the building with the Community Center.
Councilman Tim Maniez worried that with its many doors there would be problems of access to other parts of the building. Councilman Brad Seaman's opposition was more basic.
"I like the restrictiveness of this (proposed ban)," he said. "However, I'm personally not in favor of alcohol in the building. Whether or not an event is successful because of alcohol, that's a poor reason. You can be successful without alcohol."
Although he didn't have a vote in the 3-2 decision to retain the ban, Anderson said he thought "the city wasn't ready" to allow alcohol in the Community Center. Too many people in the community still think of the center as a school, he said.
Council members agreed they wanted to see the Cinco de Mayo Celebration continue in De Soto and said they would consider contributing money to the event to help ensure its survival.
The move wasn't unprecedented, Council members noted. The city contributes to the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration.
At least part of the proposed ordinance will come back before the Council. Reavey and Johnson also proposed gatherings of more than 100 be subject to the same deposit, cleanup and security demands as those proposed for alcohol use.
Betty Cannon, who along with Mitra Templin will join the Council at the next meeting, said she would entertain reconsideration of the alcohol-use ordinance.
"It does stop rentals and other community groups from using the Community Center," she said.
During the Council's discussion, Templin asked if any policies were in place when the city experienced problems. The Council now had the policies Johnson and Reavey suggested, she said..