Seeing no other viable alternative, the Oakdale City Council at its Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting voted unanimously, some members voicing their hesitations, to proceed with a two-year reviewable ordinance banning alcohol in city parks.
The ordinance would not affect Kerr Park and would provide for a simple permitting process to allow alcohol for individuals wishing to have gatherings at parks.
The ordinance, once finalized, is expected to go into effect Nov. 30.
The move comes after months, if not over a year, of hearing complaints from residents and business owners about conditions left behind by what were described as “day drinkers” and “street people.”
“There are very few ‘homeless’ in Oakdale,” Mayor Pat Paul said, delineating the difference from those without homes due to tragic circumstances and the subjects who were the focus of the proposed ordinance. “These people have places to go but choose to do their drinking in the parks.”
The subject of the park drinking ban divided residents who did not want the many to be punished for the bad acts of a few and those frustrated with the perception of the parks being taken over by “drunkards” and “druggies.”
When presenting the proposal, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer complimented the Public Health and Safety Ad Hoc Committee that consisted of Councilman Tom Dunlop, Councilman Don Petersen, Pamela Kelly, Phil Kelly, Jonyce O’Neill, and Police Chief Lester Jenkins that assisted with developing the ordinance.
Public comments had points and counterpoints as those addressing the council spoke against or in support of the ban.
“We should not be inconvenienced for a few trouble makers,” said John Fischer, adding that there are plenty of family-friendly venues that allow and serve alcohol, such as restaurants, without problems. “The few individuals that are the cause of this won’t abide by this law.”
Business owner Jeff Goschen replied it was unfair to compare the park situation to family-friendly restaurants and businesses.
“Patrons don’t lie around drunk under tables for eight hours all day,” Goschen said.
“You cannot reason with a drunk,” said former Oakdale Police Sergeant and resident Mike Eggener. “You can’t fix it all at once, but this is a good start.”
Councilman Farrell Jackson, an outspoken critic of the ban, had questions to why a sunset period of two years was selected and the process for the permitting.
“In my opinion, we would see if this works in one month,” Jackson said. “Two years may be too long.”
Dunlop stated the two-year mark was a compromise and gave a period to determine its success.
Whitemyer further explained that other factors, such as it would be winter when the ordinance went into effect, and he did not want a decline in the subjects at the park to be noticed due to poor weather and not the ban.
During discussion, Councilman Mike Brennan said he would like to see a periodic evaluation report for effectiveness built in to the ordinance.
City placement of portable toilets in Wood Park, and possibly other parks, was also discussed as part of the ban.
Paul, who was the lone vote against the “Porta-potties,” said the toilets would enable the behavior problem and continue to attract “street persons” to the area.
After the meeting Police Chief Jenkins said he was pleased that the council approved the ban that gave the department some tools to use in dealing with the problem.
“We’ll have to wait and see where they choose to go now,” Jenkins said. “I think it’ll be effective, but if it isn’t, I’ll be the first in line to let it die out.”