Aug. 21, 2006

Liquor question could be on Cokato ballot

By Lynda Jensen

A possible strong liquor question on the fall ballot took center stage at the Cokato council meeting last Monday.

The council reluctantly sifted through conflicting information about the process, being pressed about the issue by resident Matt Stumpf, who has a petition underway.

There was a question of whether the council is able to pass a resolution in order to put a question on the ballot, or whether a petition is required, the latter of which was previously dictated by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer two weeks ago.

The requirement for a petition by Kiffmeyer was scrutinized, since Administrator Don Levens noted that the Dassel City Council placed strong liquor on the general election of 2002 without a petition.

In addition, the League of Minnesota Cities informed the council that a petition isn’t necessarily needed.

Kiffmeyer amended her previous statement to the Enterprise Dispatch Wednesday by saying that the council may pass a resolution to place the question on the ballot instead of the petition process – but that such a course of action is “more risky,” since it is open to challenge in the courts – and that she doesn’t recommend it, she said.

“It is safest to go with a petition,” Kiffmeyer told the Enterprise. “When you go directly to the voters, it’s best.”

However, she noted both ways end up with voters making the final decision on the ballot.

Conflicting answers from the secretary of state’s office was noted during and after the meeting, with Clerk Peg Carlson saying that she has received inconsistent answers from there before. Stumpf said it was hard to reach a real person there.

Nevertheless, the council decided to follow through with proposing a resolution either way Monday, since the clock was ticking; being that action must be taken by the end of August.

The council promptly voted down liquor on the ballot with a split vote 4-1, with council member Gordy Erickson voting in favor, and the remainder of the council voting nay, including Mayor Bruce Johnson, as well as council members Jan Severson, Butch Amundsen, and Phil Haataja.

The council decided to have the city attorney take the matter under advisement.

Liquor might still be on the ballot

Attention turned to the petition process, since a petition with the signatures of 200 voters could place the question on the ballot despite the council’s action.

“Why is it such a huge deal to put it on the ballot?” Stumpf asked, saying the council has dragged its feet about the subject.

“It would help to attract businesses like restaurants or hotels,” Stumpf said.

Dassel budgeted $1 million in sales, he said. “Why not keep some of the money in town?” he asked.

The petition contains verbage for approval of both on and off sale strong liquor.

On-sale licenses pertain to restaurants or bars that serve liquor which is consumed on the premises. Off sale pertains to liquor stores that sell products which are carried out the door and consumed elsewhere.

Johnson described voting in favor of liquor as being political suicide. “The last 30 years, it’s the kiss of death politically,” he said.

Amundsen has also said previously that he was opposed to using alcohol for the purpose of economic development.

Erickson spoke in favor of placing it on the ballot, urging other members to get off the fence, he said. “If you sit on the fence, it gets a little pointy,” he said.

Stumpf plans to turn his petition in, but only when he is absolutely sure that he has enough signatures to press the issue.

In fact, he said he wouldn’t turn it in by the deadline unless he was 100 percent sure he had enough names. Carlson recommended obtaining about 280 names for the petition.

Last time, a petition failed because there were several signatures of non-registered voters and a few other problems such as change of address, Carlson reported. Names will only count if they are on already the official list of registered voters.

Carlson needs 10 days to verify the petition, she said. The deadline is Friday, Aug. 25.

Nevertheless, if the petition isn’t turn in on time to accommodate the general election ballot, it might force the city to host a special election to the tune of about $4,000, Carlson noted after the meeting.

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