After considerable wrangling with the issue, Springfield City Council members are on the verge of approving how to handle alcohol sales at special events in the city.
Under the first reading of a proposal adopted last Tuesday, by a 5-1 vote, any group wishing to sell alcohol at an event will be leaning heavily on the law enforcement community. The ordinance amendment calls for a law enforcement officer to be present at all times where alcohol is being served.
The officer will be trained in the responsible sale, service and consumption of alcohol and will provide to all volunteers a written summary of what is expected of sellers and servers of alcohol.
Volunteers will be required to sign a log sheet acknowledging the discussion before they can sell and serve alcohol.
"I am prone to favor this because it meets everyone about halfway in a humane manner," said council member Kenny Usher.
Council member Steve Shealy, who cast the dissenting vote, wondered about the liability the city might face in the event of an accident. Shealy has advocated a level of training be provided for any special event where alcohol is sold.
"There are still questions on the city’s liability," he said.
But city attorney Rick Rafter said the city shouldn’t face any more liability if an accident stems from someone being served alcohol, since the city has made a good faith effort to prevent underage consumption and overserving.
"I don’t see the city being any more liable," he said. "You can sue anybody these days. I think the law requires you to make an effort to do what you can do."
Rafter also said the city might want to have more than one officer trained in alcohol safety. Springfield Police Chief Paul Wynn also was curious about what liability it may entail.
"It’s out of the spectrum of what we do," he said. "I don’t think there will be a problem doing it. I would like to have all the avenues covered."
Council members had four other options to explore. One called for all those who would be serving or selling alcohol to undergo training. Each person would have to provide documentation that training had been done before any event in which alcohol is to be sold is held.
Another option also called for a Springfield officer to be on site at all times where alcohol is being served. The officer would be educated and trained in responsible alcohol serving and would pass on the training to all volunteers for the event. The officer also would supervise the sales during the event.
Also under consideration was having one person with certification in responsible service, sales and consumption of alcohol to be present at all times where alcohol is served. The training certification will be presented to the police chief before the event begins.
The remaining option was to have a trainer, at the city’s behest, to instruct all those serving and selling alcohol on how to do so safely.
"To me, the presence of a law enforcement officer is more important than the training," said council member Charles Hinely. "Having a law enforcement officer there is half the ballgame."
The Springfield Merchants Association is planning to hold a downtown fall festival, which will require the closing of some city streets, and to sell beer at the event. Jamey Stancell, president of the Springfield Merchants Association, also had concerns about the new policy.
"It’s very vague," he said.
Rafter said the new procedure gives the city two layers of protection, once when those wishing to consume beer buy the tickets and again when they obtain their beers.
"It’s a two-step process," he said.