Council votes 5-2 to allow minors in Little Falls bars until 9 p.m.

Minors allowed only with parent/guardian

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Starting soon, minors accompanied by a parent or guardian may be present in a bar in the city of Little Falls until 9 p.m.; two hours later than what the city’s ordinance had been.

The amendment was introduced at the Council’s March 4 meeting, after Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers told the Council of concerns from local bar owners for a number of years.

At that time, Schirmers said the concerns were that the 7 p.m. time was prohibitive for food sales in establishments.

The issue was tabled March 18, due to the absence of Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem.

Monday night the Council approved the amendment.

Resident Robin Hensel expressed her concern that there was willingness to extend the time for kids to be in a bar for any reason and that it was “common sense” that the extra two hours for kids to “be bellying up to the bar with mom and pop” would have a negative community norms effect, rather than a positive one.

“Seems to me that favors for bars are once again taking precedence over positive influence of our Morrison County children we profess to love so much,” she said.

Hensel said she had sent a letter to Sheila Funk of the Pierz Area Coalition (PAC) and Ann March with the Stand Up For U Coalition. Both programs run through Public Health.

The missions of the two programs are to free youths of substance abuse, both provide resources and support, as well as education for the community.

Council Member Brian-Paul Crowder said he wanted to speak with the police chief, who attended a conference last year regarding community norms with the Stand Up 4 U Coalition.

“I have a hard time believing that this organization that is trying to do the best for our kids would think it’s a good idea for kids to be in a bar until 9 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.,” said Crowder.

Crowder moved to table the issue, Council Member Frank Gosiak seconded the motion, but it failed on a 6-2 vote, with those two being the only to vote to table.

City Administrator Dan Vogt told the Council Minnesota Statute 348.503, Sub. 4, Sec. B, said that while a local authority could impose further restrictions and regulations on the sale and possession of alcohol, it could not prohibit an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old from entering a licensed establishment to work, to consume meals or to attend social functions.

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem pointed out that the time minors had to be out was 9 p.m., and that while they were in the bar, they had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. “It’s not allowing children, as I heard ‘belly up to the bar,’” she said. “Children, young adults, families will be together. The chief of police did say that we have some very good bar owners in this community. I know that the Stand Up 4 U Coalition is working very hard, the county is working hard … they’ve got an extremely good relationship with the bars, working closely with them, and I just think that 9 p.m. would be just fine.”

Council Member Greg Zylka said he had also worked for the Stand Up 4 U Coalition. “They’ve interviewed me; we’ve worked with them,” he said. “They talked to my brother at the bar and they worked with them to try to help cut back on teen drinking.”

He said, “This is not having kids in the bar to drink. … As long as they’re with their parents or guardian, it’s extended two hours. We’re not changing anything.”

Zylka said he wasn’t promoting kids drinking.

“It’s about business and the equal chance to bring people downtown and let them eat with their families,” he said. Many of the families looking to eat in a bar were from out of town, he said.

“The key,” said Council Member Loren Boyum, “Is item B6 — that it’s unlawful for any minor to be in a licensed premises by themselves, unless they are with a parent and then only until 9 p.m. I think we have to allow for parents to make those determinations.”

VanRisseghem said she believed parents, who were entrusted with their children 24 hours a day, would keep an eye on their children until 9 p.m.

“And if they happen to bring them out to eat in a bar, I would say there again, I don’t think government should have a thing to tell parents about how to raise their kids.”

Crowder asked whether the statement “parent or guardian” meant that someone from the neighborhood could bring kids into a bar, or whether an out-of-town hockey coach could. “If the coach brings out of town hockey kids, and he’s got 12 kids, so would that be OK then?”

The city’s attorney, who was not at the meeting, said “parent or guardian” are usually put together, because some kids don’t have parents, but have a guardian appointed to make decisions about their person. She said a coach or neighbor would not be considered a guardian.

Director of Morrison County Public Services Bonnie Paulsen said it was their understanding law enforcement looked into whether or not the bars impacted have a history of issues with minors and did not find any.

“It is unclear how and if a two-hour extension of minors in bars in Little Falls with a parent or guardian to eat a meal will impact underage substance use, especially considering there are no consistent standards throughout the county,” Paulsen said.

“Perhaps more important are the operations inside the establishments with respect to serving patrons responsibly and carding,” she said. “Public Health continues to work with the city and county law enforcement and establishments to ensure servers receive adequate training.”

The final vote to amend the ordinance was 5-2. Zylka abstained and Crowder and Gosiak voted no.

Little Falls City Council Briefs

During its work session Monday, the Little Falls City Council:

• Discussed a request from Green Prairie Township for a donation to be used for maintenance and continued improvements, such as permanent restrooms, at the Darling/Green Prairie Park on Green Prairie Fish Lake. City Administrator Dan Vogt suggested that if the Council was inclined to approve a donation, that the city attorney be involved to develop a contract. Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem asked that representatives from Green Prairie Township come to explain their plans; and

• Reviewed mission statements from other cities, presented by Council Member Loren Boyum. It was decided a committee should be formed to come up with a mission statement for Little Falls. Committee members include Boyum, Brian-Paul Crowder, Frank Gosiak and Public Works Director Jerry Lochner and Finance Officer Lori Kasella.

At its regular meeting, the Council:

• Voted to pay Pat Kuffel of Little Falls $35 per hour to continue work on rehabilitating the stone wall in front of the Pine Grove Park and Zoo. Lochner said about $7,000 was spent last year and the goal this year is to finish the pillars and start the wall;

• Approved selling the zoo’s two young yaks at $800 each to Wylie Park and Zoo in Aberdeen, S.D. The zoo will keep the two adult yaks;

• Approved a city policy stating the City Council will consider only resolutions that pertain specifically to the city of Little Falls’ local government delivery. The city administrator will review resolution requests to determine whether there is a direct correlation to local government service delivery and report findings to the Council. Vogt said he would review the requests, but that the Council would see every request. Approval rested solely with the Council, he said;

• Approved the execution of a $8,296 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, using $6,266 to determine the location and station of unused municipal wells and $2,030 to develop and place wellhead protection information on the city’s Web site;

• Approved Little Falls Executive Director Kris VonBerge’s request for $11,699.55 out of the tourist fund to pay for different brochures and distribution;

• Approved 7-1, with Crowder voting “no,” to provide a statement of support from the Council to the Minnesota Department of Revenue to waive Phoenix Plastics LLC’s obligation to repay JOBZ tax benefits, upon the recommendation of the Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA’s position was that the economic crisis proved to be the demise of the company. The decision to waive repayment of the JOBZ benefits, including property taxes, is entirely up to the state;

• Approved unanimously to accept the low bid of $14,618 from Doug Ackerman Construction in Royalton, to replace the cedar shake shingles on the shelter building in Pine Grove Park, to be completed by the end of May, in time for the Pine Grove Zoo’s 100th anniversary celebration, June 8; and

• Approved the 2013 fees at the Little Falls Country Club. Although the actual changes were not available at the meeting, Superintendent Randy Pankonen said the only changes were the cost of buckets of drive range balls increased 50 cents; a five-play golf card increased from $80 to $90; and a single membership increased $10 to $560. All other fees remain the same, he said.