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Wright County Board approves new social host ordinance
Sept. 3, 2012

By Ivan Raconteur

WRIGHT COUNTY, MN – Wright County has joined 19 other Minnesota counties in adopting a “social host” ordinance aimed at reducing underage drinking.

County Attorney Tom Kelly conducted a public hearing during Tuesday’s board meeting. Following the hearing, the board unanimously approved the ordinance, which will take effect 30 days from adoption.

Under the new ordinance, “It’s illegal to allow a gathering of three or more people on private or public property where the host knows or reasonably should know that minors will consume alcohol and the host does not take reasonable steps to stop it. It is unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, without regard to who supplied the alcohol to the minors. A ‘knowing’ host does not need to be present to be criminally responsible.”

Kelly said ownership of property does not make someone liable under this ordinance. The property owner must have known or reasonably should have known about the activity in order to be liable.

“We are not going after landlords or farmers,” Kelly said.

Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The ordinance covers all municipalities and townships in Wright County.

“Reasonable steps” that can be taken by hosts to prevent underage drinking include:

• telling minors that they can’t consume alcohol;

• posting a sign near a keg/beer or liquor that minors are not allowed to consume alcohol;

• providing adult supervision to monitor who is consuming the alcohol;

• controlling the access to alcohol;

• if not sure, checking the identification of attendees to determine age; and

• “reasonable steps are what ‘common sense’ would tell you under the circumstances.”

Under Minnesota Statutes 145A.05, Subd. 1, counties have authority to adopt ordinances that regulate actual or potential threats to the public health.

The purpose of the ordinance is to discourage minor consumption, and hold criminally responsible those who knowingly allow gatherings where minor consumption is taking place and take no reasonable steps to stop it.

A number of people spoke in favor or the ordinance during the public hearing.

They included police chiefs and representatives from a variety of other agencies.

The lone voice against the ordinance during the hearing was Charlie Borrell of Waverly, a candidate for Wright County Commissioner in District 5.

Borrell said he does not support underage drinking or drinking and driving, but he argued that the ordinance will not save lives as supporters have contended.

Borrell said it is illegal for people who are 18 to 20 years old to consume alcohol, and these people are adults and should be held accountable for their actions.

Borrell said society lacks individual responsibility, and under this ordinance, “we are blaming somebody else” (the host) rather than the people who are committing the illegal activity.

“At what point do people 18 or over have responsibility?” Borrell inquired.

Although not present at the hearing, David Nelson, Clearwater Township supervisor, noted in written correspondence with Kelly that he is opposed to the ordinance, and believes young adults 18 and older should be held accountable for their actions.

Clearwater Township Board unanimously passed a motion opposing the ordinance during its Aug. 21 meeting.

Sheriff Joe Hagerty said the ordinance is just a tool, and will give law enforcement a tool to deal with “party houses.”

Kelly said the ordinance is a necessary tool to address blatant violations.

The board unanimously approved the ordinance.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• approved re-convening the tax forfeiture committee Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 8:30 a.m. in the auditor/treasurer’s conference room.

• approved a Joint Ditch 14 meeting Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Stockholm Community Center.

• opened bids for repairs to Joint Ditch 15 and laid over acceptance until a future meeting.

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