Ban on drinking in parks closer to reality

09/04/2013 1:51 PM

09/04/2013 1:52 PM

The City Council has moved close to banning alcohol at most parks, except for gatherings with a police permit.

Tuesday night, it unanimously approved the outline of an ordinance that would be in effect for two years. It could be renewed after that if officials think it has curbed problems related to excessive drinking.

The proposal sparked a spirited debate among residents. Some said it infringes on the rights of people who want to enjoy a little beer or wine. Others said they are tired of the fighting, refuse and other problems caused by people who spend long hours drinking in the parks.

“It’s a very bad image for these families and kids to see,” resident Jeff Goschen told the council.

Resident J.R. McCarty said “a handful of people” cause the problems and can be handled under the state law against public drunkenness.

The ban would not apply to Kerr Park, a large site on the east side of Oakdale that includes softball fields and other attractions. Councilman Farrell Jackson said this park is not prone to the alcohol problems that have occurred at others.

A committee of city officials and residents crafted the ordinance, a compromise between people seeking lighter or tougher rules on drinking.

The council plans to consider the exact wording Oct. 7. It could take effect as soon as Nov. 30.

The council agreed that the alcohol permits should be easy to get and free of charge. They will be issued by Police Chief Lester Jenkins, who was part of the committee.

“There will still be problems, but I think it will still reduce the problems in the parks, and it will improve the image of Oakdale,” he said.

Jackson supported the ordinance despite a concern that the two-year term was too long. He also said the city would be better-served by hiring more police officers to enforce current laws.

Councilman Michael Brennan said he did not like the idea of a ban, but he saw no alternative.

“We aren’t getting to the root of the problem, which is alcohol and drug abuse,” he said.

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