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Council to discuss occupancy violations

By Burk Krohe

City commissioners will consider an ordinance relating to enforcement of overcrowding violations at Tuesday’s meeting. The city originally brought the ordinance to commissioners in January, but the measure was tabled based on commissioners’ feedback.

The ordinance is in response to safety concerns about overcrowding at bars during Fake Patty’s Day, an annual, unsponsored drinking event that takes place the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day. Numerous bars were temporarily closed and reopened for overcrowding during last year’s event.

The original ordinance would have made overcrowding violations a class A misdemeanor. The changes also would have permitted officials the discretion to close a bar up to 24 hours following overcrowding, given Riley County Police Department authority to enforce overcrowding, made the minimum fine for overcrowding $500 (the current maximum fine) and the maximum fine $2,500 and allowed the city to pursue suspension or revocation of a bar’s liquor license after repeat offenses. By reclassifying the offense as a class A misdemeanor, violations could also be punishable by up to one year in jail.

Some adjustments were made based on commissioners’ discussions.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, assistant city manager Lauren Palmer said the Manhattan Fire Department has adopted a “no tolerance” policy toward overcrowding, citing bars on the spot for first time overcrowding offenses. Several commissioners were supportive of the no tolerance policy, describing it as a good proactive approach.

Commissioner Loren Pepperd said those measures have “cleaned up the place,” pointing to the fact that there have only been three citations since September. Commissioner Wynn Butler said citations and emptying bars, then filling them to capacity, could be just as damaging as the proposed fines.

Butler said he was in favor of a minimum fine but was also concerned about the “unintended consequences” of closing a bar for 24 hours. He said it could create a ripple effect where patrons move from bar to bar, creating new overcrowding situations, or move out into the neighborhoods surrounding Aggieville.

In response, city officials recommend removing the provision to close bars for up to 24 hours following overcrowding because there didn’t seem to be support for it from commissioners. City officials also recommend simply setting the minimum fine at $500 instead of a tiered structure based on number of offenses in the original ordinance. Municipal judges would have the discretion to set fines between $500 and $2,500 depending on the severity of the offense.

City officials would also like to pursue license suspension or revocation for repeat overcrowding violations. However, an ordinance change to municipal code would be required to do so. The city will bring the amendment back to commissioners at a later date.

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