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Town Board Nixes Permits for Drinking On Town Property
Ban on Alcohol In Public Stands
February 4, 2013

hen Oriental’s Town Board meets on February 5th, the commissioners will not be voting on loosening the Town’s ordinance on drinking in public places. Instead, the board members will be considering language that more specifically defines what it takes to violate the no-drinking-in-public rule.

Oriental Town Board gathered for its agenda meeting Thursday, January 31 and killed the proposed change to the town’s public drinking law. It was the first meeting for them in the renovated Town Hall where alcohol may have been served for events if the proposal went through. Here, commissioner Sherrill Styron takes his seat on one of the new features, a dais.

That was the upshot of the Board’s agenda meeting on January 31 where three Board members killed a week-old proposal by another commissioner to grant exceptions to the ban.

Proposal: Permits To Drink At Town Hall, Parks, Streets

Oriental’s Disorderly Conduct and Public Nuisance ordinance currently bans alcohol on Town property. Commissioner Larry Summers wanted to alter that.

Summers’ proposal would have given the Town Manager the power to grant permits that let organizations serve alcohol at events at the newly renovated Town Hall. Summers also suggested that the Town Board could grant such permits for events on other Town property. (The first version posted on the Town’s website gave all that power to the Town Manager and limited the hours for such permits to noon to 9p. The second version shared that power but had no time constraints.)

In a Letter to the Editor at TownDock.net, Summers wrote that the genesis of this change was that the Pamlico Musical Society was looking for places to hold post-concert receptions. The newly renovated Town Hall, right across Broad Street from the Old Theater might be an option, Summers wrote, except that under the current ordinance, no alcohol could be served there.

The Commissioner also wrote that with a permitting system in place, he could envision wine tastings and other gatherings on Town streets as he had remembered them from time he spent in Germany.

Commissioner Summers’ proposal became public knowledge only a few days before the Janaury 31 meeting. TownDock had published the first proposal and Letters to the Editor at TownDock.net ran 4-1 against the idea.

At that agenda meeting, Mayor Bill Sage said that there were “obviously some concerns being expressed.” Commissioner Johnson said he’d “had a lot of emails and phone calls.”

Commissioner Johnson said that “based upon what I’ve heard” from constituents, he felt that Summers’ proposal didn’t need to be brought up up at the Tuesday night meeting. “We don’t need 85 people” to come to a meeting, Johnson said, “to speak out against it.”

At the agenda meeting, it became clear that of the five commissioners, three were opposed. Commissioner Sherrill Stryon told Summers that if it came up for a vote on February 5th, “Warren, Michelle and I will not vote for it.”

Commissioner Michelle Bessette, one of three Town Board members to speak against changing the law. Alcohol and public buildings do not mix, she says. She cites liability as a big reason to oppose the proposal.

When Commissioner Summers suggested he could explain his proposal, Commissioner Bessette stopped that by stating, “It’s not going to change my mind.”

Liability An Issue

Some who oppose allowing alcohol at Town Hall and other Town of Oriental property have raised the issue of the town being held liable for drunk drivers who harmed others with their vehicles after drinking on Town property. For some it was a hypothetical, but Commissioner Bessette, in an interview after the agenda meeting, said that she knew first hand of a case where “that actually happened.”

Bessette said she once worked for a government agency in Saratoga County, New York. A Christmas party was held – with alcohol – at a government building.

“Someone from that party left, went the wrong way on a road and killed somebody” As a result, Bessette said, the local government “got slammed” for damages. Alcohol, she said, is no longer allowed at functions in that government’s buildings.

“Alcohol and public buildings do not mix,” said the first-term Commissioner. She notes that there are places in town — the Oriental Woman’s Club, the Catholic Church — which can be rented for events, and where alcohol may be served. (At least one restaurateur has said his facility could also be rented after hours for events such as the one Commissioners Summers cited.)

Alcohol In Town Hall, Town Property Nixed…For Now

After a few minutes at the Agenda meeting, a motion was made to remove Commissioner Summers’ proposal. On a voice vote, the voices of Commissioners Bessette, Johnson and Styron could be heard voting to take the proposal off the agenda.

Mayor Bill Sage said that “removing it from the agenda doesn’t mean it’s removed forever.” He noted that individual commissioners could bring up an item to put on the agenda, just as other commissioners could decide to keep it there, or remove it.

For the moment, however, it appears the issue is not on the agenda for the February 5 meeting.

Firming Up the Language Of “Drinking In Public”

Commissioner Barbara Venturi noted that one part of the proposal that might bear looking at was a rewrite of the definition of what it meant to be drinking in public.

Town Board member Barbara Venturi at Thursday’s agenda meeting.

The following is the proposed change that’ll be up for discussion Tuesday night:

Section 5—Drinking in Public
It shall be unlawful for any person to consume, sell, serve, or drink alcoholic beverages of any kind, or to publicly display alcoholic beverages if the container has been opened or the seal broken, on any property owned, leased, or controlled by the town , and any public street, alley, sidewalk, or parking lot within the town limits, whether the area is open to vehicular traffic or has been closed to vehicular traffic in connection with a parade or other special event.

The commissioners discussed how making the language more specific would benefit the Town’s police officer, Lt. Dwaine Moore in enforcing the law.

For comparision, here is the language in the Disorderly Conduct and Public Nuisance ordinance as it now stands.

Section 5— Drinking in Public No person shall consume, serve, or drink wine, beer, whisky, or alcoholic beverages of any kind on the public streets, alleys, or in public buildings.

The Board voted unanimously to consider the more expansive language – a rewrite of Section 5 of Article 1 in the Town ordinance on Disorderly Conduct and Public Nuisance. That is the aspect of drinking in public which will come up Tuesday night.

Posted Monday February 4, 2013 by Melinda Penkava

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