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Numerous discussions have occurred in recent months about whether or not underage patrons should be allowed in Springfield bars and clubs.
Now, Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt is working to get a petition signed that could put the issue in front of Springfield voters.
On Tuesday, we brought you Merritt's comments.
Today, KSMU's Matt Petcoff speaks with Rusty Worley, executive director of the Urban Districts Alliance and the facilitator for the Hospitality Resource Panel.
We begin with Worley's comments about the panel's position on the proposed ban on minors.
Worley - I think it important to note that there is a lot more common ground than is being portrayed. First, under both proposals no one under 18 will be allowed into bars and clubs. I think that is important, because right now my four and half year old daughter could go into a bar or club. This puts restrictions on that. Our ordinance provides substantial penalties to those who would violate either from the establishment side if they were allowing the consumption by minors. Or, the individual side if the person was trying to beat the system with a fake I.D or by taking someone else drink... there's a 500 dollar penalty for the individual. So there are substantial penalties in place there for them.
Petcoff - So, it sounds like this isn't two opposing sides working against each other, rather its two different sides working on parallel paths with slightly different ideas. Is that correct?
Worley - That is the way I've seen all along. We both have that common goal of reducing underage drinking. We want to look at alternatives that stop short of the ban that says what else is out there. How else can we provide more accountability to those who own the establishments and more accountability for the individuals? If you look at the DWI statistics last year, you had 1405 DWI's last year. Out of those, 100 were under the age of 21. That's 7 percent. Of those 100, only 12 of the 100 said they got there alcohol from a bar or night club. So are we really addressing the major issues here?
Petcoff - Sheriff Merritt and the DWI taskforce have their petition that they hope to take to the city council. What are your groups doing to advance their purposes?
Worley - The first thing we want to do is to answer the questions of the city council. We are going to provide them with some additional statistics and information about our process. We are a group of 25 different individuals, only 6 of whom represent hospitality and restaurants. The other 19 represent safety through police, legal, the fire chief. We have developers on our group, we have different members of community groups that are represented. We really tried to get a wide range of people on our staff. We have a student from Missouri State University, we have the Dean of Students from Missouri State, we've been in contact with Drury University's dean of students and their staff. So, we're trying to reach out but our first step is provide additional information to the city council so they can learn more about our process and have them answer any questions. And, it looks like it will be up to the voters to decide. I guess the question is going to be is there enough in place now or through some version of the ordinance that we suggested, is there some measure short of an all out ban that could still significantly address underage drinking without putting a wedge between this demographic that is so vitally important to Springfield. We have five colleges and universities; it's really an energizing force of Springfield. How do we improve that instead of segregate it.
Petcoff - I've heard the word compromise thrown out in this discussion, whether it could be bar owners purchasing certain licenses or some other middle ground. Is there any compromise on the table right now?
Worley - Not at this point. It has really come down to a philosophical issue. Should those under-21 be in bars and clubs. There are those who say no and that is represented in the petition drive. And then there are those who are looking at how do you provide accountability, how do you provide disincentives to where those who still want to socialize can do so, but providing them significant disincentives where if they try to beat the system, they know they will have substantial consequences.
Petcoff - Finally, being a member of the hospitality panel and UDA, sum up what your groups are tying to accomplish.
Worley - With the hospitality resource panel, it's really just looking at how we can make Springfield a safer and more vibrant place in which to socialize. We feel this is one component but there are many levers. There's not a magic lever to address underage drinking, to address safety concerns. To the credit of the DWI task force, they've been a group that has pulled levers in the past; they've enacted the keg registration and done other things. That's why we think working with them, the urban neighborhood alliance, community partnership, that is why we think we can accomplish more working together than against one another.
Petcoff - We've been speaking with Rusty Worley, executive director of the Urban Districts Alliance and the facilitator for the Hospitality Resource Panel.