Vote on alcohol in city parks is worth the wait
I write today in response to the Gazette Editorial Board’s views in the Jan. 30 paper. The Gazette called the Janesville City Council’s actions on delaying drinking in select park pavilions by two weeks to consider background checks “baffling” and “silly.” I can assure you, according to state statistics, there is nothing silly about our state’s drinking problem.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin ranks extremely high in alcoholic binge drinking compared to every other state, regardless of race, sex or age. We are also the highest in the nation for drinking by our high school students. This can be seen almost every other day in The Gazette’s Public Records section. It almost seems commonplace now to read about someone’s sixth, seventh or even eighth OWI.
At the Jan. 28 meeting, Shelley Slapak, the city recreation director, came forward with a proposal to allow the consumption of beer and wine in certain pavilions within our parks system. I believe her presentation, research and background of the issue were all very thought out, and I agree that it could be a good idea. Other cities, such as Madison, allow drinking in their parks. In Janesville, for $50 more, the city could grant citizens permits to allow the consumption of alcohol at pavilions they rent for family gatherings and parties in the summer.
On the surface, I have no issue with this. I know that the city cannot, nor should it attempt to, protect everyone from all potential problems. People must take responsibility for their actions, and we should trust in the majority of people to do so. I simply brought up the question of simple, limited background checks on the people applying for these permits.
When the city gives a liquor license/permit to a bartender or business, the police department conducts a background check. I wasn’t suggesting that we go the same distance or as in-depth for these permits, but a simple check—perhaps using CCAP (Wisconsin Courts System Circuit Court Access) and checking for any “red flags, for example several OWIs, drug charges or problems with public intoxication in their recent past.
I can’t speak for the other council members, but I do believe that when the city council reconvenes Monday, Feb. 11, that this ordinance will pass. Shelley Slapak and Police Chief David Moore will come back with their recommendations, and then we will vote.
The way I see it, we haven’t allowed drinking in the parks since 1967, and I think we can wait two more weeks to drink in our parks and take a serious look at the feasibility of limited background checks.
Sam Liebert is a Janesville City Council member; email LiebertS@ci.janesville.wi.us; phone 608-718-4541.