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Comments On Drinking On Town Property

February 11, 2013

The following letters are on the topic of changing Oriental’s Public Nuisance ordinance so that the Town Manager or Town Board could grant permits to let groups drink in public places such as Oriental’s Town Hall, streets closed for events, and parks, among others.

(As of the Town Board’s agenda meeting on January 31, that proposal to make that change was taken off of the agenda for the February 5 meeting. Nonetheless, the issue continues to generate reader comment….)

Dear Editor,

I would like to clarify the position of the Pamlico Musical Society regarding Oriental’s alcoholic beverage regulations. Put simply, as a society we neither favor nor oppose any changes to the town’s existing regulations.

What probably clouds the issue for some is that several weeks ago we were approached by a member of the town council asking if we would be interested in using the new Town Hall for any of our private “meet the artist” receptions following performances at the Old Theater. The Society’s response was that because of the Town Hall’s very convenient location just across from the theater we might indeed consider holding an occasional event there —- assuming the meeting room and facilities were appropriate and that our reception format (which offers free hors d’ouevres and beverages including beer, wine and soft drinks) did not conflict with rules regarding use of the facility.

The Pamlico Musical Society is perfectly happy to continue holding all of our receptions at private residences and businesses and we never suggested that any town regulation be changed to accommodate our receptions nor have we ever taken a position on the current alcoholic beverage debate. Our only mission is to bring quality musical entertainment and education to our community, including such events as the free Harbor Sounds bluegrass concert this weekend which will benefit the HOPE clinic. Please come and enjoy!

Marilyn Nevison
President, Pamlico Musical Society

To the Editor:

What a shame.

Oriental’s non-profit organizations might never opt to use their own Town Hall’s centrally located meeting space for pre- or post- performance/theater receptions or elegant fundraisers because an existing law forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages on Town property. The conference room in that same building may never host a professional staff or board retreat that ends with a celebratory toast for the same reason.

Prior to moving here I enjoyed wine with business colleagues and friends on public property in several North Carolina cities and towns. They were quite tame and civil events by any standard. In each case, permitting procedures were in place to protect the city or state from liability and insure the public’s safety and welfare. Size of guest list, type of event, location and time, amount and type of beverage to be served—all of these variables were limited and controlled.

That kind of system works. Moreover, such events benefit a community – by raising money for worthy causes, launching new initiatives, providing a forum for networking and brainstorming, providing a revenue stream from rental fees, and cultivating stronger bonds between the community’s leaders and stakeholders.

But not here in “River City.” At least not yet.

Summarily forbidding all alcohol consumption on Town property seems out of character in a community like Oriental, where so many gather over wine and cheese at other locations without the sky falling. I hope this matter receives careful re-consideration and results in a more balanced and reasonable ordinance.

Bama Lutes Deal

To the Editor:

I have been a business owner here in Oriental and yet I do not want to attract people to Oriental that need to drink in public to have a good time. This is not the kind of town anyone I know wants.

Want to generate more business?

Get the town some showers, a bathroom, and a laundry, to help attract more visitors, more boaters.

Help the few businesses that are still surviving in a town that does not offer the public these common amenities. Build these facilities on town land, or land purchased outright by the town, without giving up any water front property, and without depending on any individual’s ‘good intentions’ or promises.

Where is our bike path?

The Town Board needs to focus on the welfare of the citizens of this town, and what the majority of those citizens really want.

Gil Fontes

Dear Editor,

I was reading the letter promoting alcohol on Town property and was extremely disappointed. People already drink on the streets, albeit illegally, at night while walking from bar to bar, or from bar to car and during festivals and gatherings, like the Dragon Run. Why in the world would we allow drinking on Town property?

We have developed a reputation as being a “family friendly” town, with bike riders and walkers and golf cart riders. Do we really need the liability of having alcohol at Town Hall, or on any other Town property? Has anyone looked into the cost of the insurance to cover that?

I think that a patron of a Town Hall party having or causing an accident would be a most embarrassing headline. Who is going to be responsible for over-serving? In North Carolina, the bar and the bartenders can be held liable if an accident happens involving a patron. Does this mean a town employee will undertake that responsibility?

Does that mean the Town is now going to be in competition with the restaurants? Is this a way to further damage the community relations with our businesses? Our restaurants already have the responsibility and liability of serving alcohol. They need the ability to stay in business by selling food and beverages.

As the person who heads up both The Spirit of Christmas and the Croaker Festival, I have to vehemently oppose this seemingly “good idea”. Both of these events and many others require “the family friendly” venue that we now have. I don’t think that’s worth losing.

My parting thought is this: If a Town event requires alcohol to be served, what does that say about those we voted for? Do we think that a perceived image of drunken commissioners, volunteers or employees enhances our Town?

Candy Bohmert

The letter writer is a former Oriental Town Commissioner.

(This is a copy of the email I sent to Town Board members and the Mayor):

Dear Mr. Mayor and Commissioners,

I am writing to express my opposition to any change in the current town ordinance prohibiting alcoholic drinks on public property. At present, it’s nice to know that I can utilize public facilities at any time without concern that I’ll be confronted with individuals who have elected to consume alcohol.

We have, as best I can count, five or more places in town (on private property), where individuals can drink alcohol — not to mention every private home or club in town. If I choose not to patronize those places, I can avoid that consumption. Once you open the public streets and buildings to alcohol (even with a permit), you have told me that I cannot use those facilities unless I’m content being exposed to drinking. That is something to which I strongly object.

We already have a well documented problem in town keeping drunks from private facilities off the streets. One could certainly argue that any change in our town ordinance relating to alcohol should be to strengthen, not lessen, the prohibition on its use in public.

What people choose to do in their homes or on private property is their business, not mine. But when public facilities are being used, we all have a say in what goes on. I do not perceive that there is any principled limitation on the use of alcohol in public locations once this door is opened. Thus, I am advocating keeping it closed. Please let those of us (and our families, including our children) who wish to utilize public facilities absent alcohol consumption, to continue to do so.


Paul Delamar

The writer is Chairman of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners and an attorney in Bayboro.

To the Editor:

I hope the town leaders will do an internet search before considering allowing alcohol on Town property.

Southport, NC, home of the 4th of July celebration, does not allow alcohol at the festival. The chief of police told us that this limitation ensures that the event will remain family-friendly.

San Francisco banned alcohol at one of its street fairs, again at the request of police officials. The same story has unfolded in Chicago, Austin Texas, Berkeley California and many other cities.

Oriental has a number of pleasant venues that serve alcohol, and they are located in places that are convenient enough for anyone who attends a local event and wants to drink. There is no need to bring alcohol sales and consumption into the streets and parks.

Our restaurant owners are regulated in ways that help ensure that underage drinkers and intoxicated people are not served; regulating these things in public spaces is much more difficult.

As for wine tastings and such inside Town Hall, that might be a different issue: one could have an ordinance that limited potential alcohol use to indoor facilities, under conditions spelled out in the ordinance.

A further note is that any ordinance that regulates public gatherings should provide neutral and precise standards. Giving the Town Manager wide discretion invites legal challenges.

Michael Tigar

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Law at Duke Law School.

To the citizens of Oriental,

I was quite taken aback when I read the Town’s new proposed policy toward the consumption of alcoholic beverages on all public properties. The tone of Commissioner Summers’ letter eased some of those concerns, but not all of them.

My greatest concern is that some would attempt to greatly increase the attendance of larger events by promoting the availability of alcoholic beverages. Have any of you ever been to an outdoor concert where alcoholic beverages were not only allowed, but promoted as a means of increasing attendance, and therefore profitability at those events? Well, I have, and let me just tell you it can get pretty ugly.

So what is different about Oriental that would keep ugly, alcohol-induced events from happening here? Is it fair to our police officer to deal with such events; or will it become, as proposed, the responsibility of the event organizers (and their police forces?).

I am not a teetotaler, far from it; but there is a time and a place for responsible drinking and Croakerfest, as an example, is not one of them.

Additionally, this proposed ordinance gives full authority to one man, not even an elected official, to issue a permit to whomever he chooses and purely at his discretion; to me, that is irresponsible government in a town this size, regardless of who the individual is.

I have nothing against wine a tasting at town hall after an art show, but shouldn’t we look a bit further than that before we open a
Pandoras’s Box.

Respectfully submitted,

John Zeren

Letter to the Editor:

The grand opening of Oriental’s “Front Porch” (New Town Hall) is just around the corner. It is a great facility. Not only will it provide a great new functional facility for the regular business of the town it will also provide space for local organizations to gather and or have functions. We are an unusual town with a vibrant mix of locals, come-heres (including me) and visitors from all over the world.

The first organization that has requested to use the new facility is the Pamlico Music Society. They have receptions to meet the artists after their events. Most receptions are held at private homes. The proximity of the “Old Theater” to the Town Hall, however, makes it perfect venue for such receptions. I expect other organizations to make similar requests.

One difficulty in having such receptions is that our current alcohol policy prohibits consuming any alcoholic beverages on any town property. The Pamlico Music Society serves wine and beer with no charge to the artists and guests at such receptions. I think that it is time to change our alcohol policy to reflect both the potential use of our new facility and other potential uses of town properties.

I can imagine having a wine tasting on a closed Hodges Street during some events like the Oriental Boat Show. I can see that such an activity in conjunction with other events like our Farmers Market or perhaps a street dance may actually bring those visitors into the actual Town of Oriental. There has been some talk of having a Christmas Market in conjunction with the “Spirit of Christmas” . I enjoyed such markets during two military tours in Germany. The smells of chestnuts roasting and the gluhwein (mulled wine) still provide me with wonderful memories.

I don’t believe that we should allow alcohol with any permit request but there are events and circumstances where alcohol could quite appropriately enhance such events. The permitting process should be comprehensive and will be under our proposed new ordinance.

Larry Summers

The letter writer is a Town Commissioner.

At its January 31st meeting, the Oriental Town Board voted not to consider the proposal from Commissioner Summers. Further, the Board voted to look at a proposed rewrite of the ordinance language on what it means to drink in public so that the public and police might know the boundaries.) That sparked its own set of Letters to the Editor. Click here to read those.

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