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Willmar Police Chief Kulset addresses the City Council during a meeting Tuesday about a proposed change to the city's liquor license ordinance. The council voted in favor of the change, which would allow the police chief to decide whether an off-duty officer is required to be present at an event where intoxicating liquor is served. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Change to liquor ordinance is approved by Willmar Council

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Change to liquor ordinance is approved by Willmar Council
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved a proposed ordinance amendment that would let the chief of police decide whether an off-duty officer is required to be present at an event where intoxicating liquor is served.

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The council took action after holding a public hearing on the amendment Monday night.

Current ordinance requires the holder of a temporary liquor license to pay for an off-duty city police officer to be present at the location at all times during the time that intoxicating liquor is dispensed. The ordinance also requires the license holder to pay for additional officers that may be required in the discretion of the police chief.

Under the amendment, the police chief will have the discretion to decide whether an officer must be present at all.

The amendment was considered at the request of the Eagles Club. The Eagles applied for a temporary liquor license for a pool tournament this weekend in the City Auditorium. During the application process, the club became aware of license criteria of requiring police service at all times during the time liquor is being dispensed.

The Eagles had said they could not afford the 22 hours of service at $60 per hour to pay for an off-duty officer during the tournament.

Speaking in favor of the amendment was Keith Rende of Willmar, a member of the Eagles Club board of trustees. He said any and all unexpected costs can make a difference in breaking even and losing money on a local convention or tournament. He said the current ordinance is one of those unexpected costs.

Rende said the council would seek and rely on the advice of the police chief, and he said law enforcement agencies would have files of all local organizations' liquor compliance and past histories.

"By allowing the police chief the discretion, you would be eliminating a step in the process, and by this it will speed up the process,'' Rende said.

Kent Larson of the Kandi Entertainment Center asked if private security could be used instead of off-duty officers.

City Clerk Kevin Halliday said Larson's request cannot be addressed in the proposed amendment because removing the words "off-duty city police officer'' in favor of private security would significantly change the amendment and would require another hearing.

Halliday said that during committee discussion it was agreed that various clubs, religious organizations and non-profit groups that have a good track record in complying with liquor ordinances should be allowed extra discretion by the police chief as to whether an off-duty officer should be present.

Halliday said present ordinance gives the chief additional discretion to require additional officers to be present.

He said the Public Works/Safety Committee discussed the issue and recommended the amendment be added that lets the chief waive the requirement for an officer to be present.

Mayor Les Heitke asked Police Chief Jim Kulset to describe the criteria for determining if an off-duty officer should be present.

Kulset said he takes into account the holder of the temporary license, their experience in serving, whether servers are trained to comply with liquor ordinances prohibiting sales to minors, the history of the event, location, number of participants and type of function. If they have private security, who they are and what experience does the department have with them, he said.

In related business, the council took no action on the Eagles application for the temporary liquor license to sell alcohol at the Civic Auditorium after the Eagles withdrew their license application.

Halliday said the club learned that half as many teams would be participating as had been anticipated, and the Eagles decided the club could hold the pool tournament at their club rooms, and that the club had its own license to serve alcohol.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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