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Ordinance change would let chief determine if club events require off-duty police officer

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WILLMAR -- The City Council is proposing an ordinance amendment that would let the chief of police decide whether an off-duty officer is required to be present if a club or organization sponsors an event where intoxicating liquor is served.

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

Under the amendment, the police chief would have the discretion to decide whether the presence of an off-duty police officer is required.

The amendment is being considered at the request of the Eagles Club.

The Eagles applied for a temporary liquor license for a pool tournament Feb. 19 and 20 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, according to City Clerk Kevin Halliday.

The Eagles say they cannot afford the 22 hours of service at $60 per hour for an off-duty officer during the tournament.

Bob Stone, representing the Eagles, asked the council's Public Works/Safety Committee on Jan. 26 to consider revising the ordinance to allow the chief to decide whether an officer is required to be present.

The committee voted to recommend the revision to the council, and the council on Monday night voted to hold a public hearing on the revision at the Feb. 16 meeting.

Committee Chairman Doug Reese explained the request. Reese said Police Chief Jim Kulset told committee members that there are certain organizations that hold these kinds of functions in the community. In this case, the Eagles Club has not had any violations in any of the Police Department's liquor license compliance checks. Reese said having the chief review these needs is appropriate.

Mayor Les Heitke said the issue seems to fall in the realm of setting city policy. He thought the decision should stay with council members, but said if they want to change the policy, so be it. Heitke asked City Attorney Rich Ronning if the amendment exposes the city or chief to a liability risk.

Ronning said the amendment would not expose the chief as an individual to any liability or impose any particular liability on the council. Ronning said the amendment was appropriate.

"It's a discretionary function,'' he said. "The council would only rely on what the chief of police is telling them anyway. I'm assuming the council members are not going to know the details of the criminal history of the persons that are running the organization and won't have the information available to them that the police chief would have.''

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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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