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Speakers to Eau Claire City Council: Postpone public good law upgrade

Ordinance that would give police more authority to deal with excessive drinking needs refinement, the public tells council members

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    Eau Claire City Hall on Aug. 5, 2016.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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An ordinance that city officials hope would “change the culture” around excessive drinking was downvoted by a majority of people who spoke to Eau Claire City Council Monday, most of whom were university students.

During a public discussion, community members provided feedback regarding the proposed Public Good Order ordinance, which would strengthen police authority in the city to intervene in cases of excessive drinking. 

Many comments referred to the ordinance language as “vague,” saying it’s too open to interpretation and consequently could lead to racial profiling or subjective action against homeless people.

“Vague and subjective language raises my concerns and with more voices at the table, this can be better understood,” said Austin Gulbrandson, UW-Eau Claire Student Senate intergovernmental affairs intern, who advocated for delaying a discussion and vote on the ordinance. 

Although the City Council was supposed to vote on the ordinance today, city staff is requesting that it be delayed to May to allow more time for community groups to provide feedback on it. 

Although an existing ordinance already establishes rules for loitering, the Public Good Order ordinance would be updated to include language allowing police officers to issue citations for people who are yelling, disturbing or annoying others in a public space. Police could also address through ordinance people who are causing physical neighborhood disruption or being publicly intoxicated.

In addition, the ordinance proposes that vehicles for hire, such as the Right Way Shuttle bus, couldn’t drop off more than 10 riders between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. in a single city block in the Randall Park and Third Ward neighborhoods if bus riders don’t live there.

Bus drivers would likely have to enforce the rule, said Chad Hoyord, Eau Claire police chief deputy of patrol. Hoyord said anyone living at the residence would have to prove that the more than 10 people wanting to get off the bus at that location are welcome at the residence. 

“We’re trying to avoid the issue of having 40 people dropped off at one location where nobody lives,” he said.

Kate Wilson, who spoke Monday representing the Healthy Communities High Risk Drinking Prevention Action Team, said the ordinance is one way to address the problem with excessive drinking in the community.

“Policy can create culture change and policy is an effective tool to address this,” she said.

Representatives from the two neighborhoods who would likely be most affected by the ordinance spoke in favor of tabling a decision on the ordinance, noting that while some type of enforcement is needed, more feedback should be gathered.

“We feel strongly that this ordinance is something that’s needed, but we see so much room for improvement,” said Lauren Lierman, president of the Randall Park Neighborhood Association.

The co-chair of the Third Ward Steering Committee, Kevin Rosenberg, said while committee members reject the ordinance in its current form, they haven’t had enough time to review the language and provide feedback, specifically on implications it might have for the bus as a safe ride for students. 

“We don’t want to see the bus taken away from the students if it’s not necessary,” he said.

Joel Mikelson voiced concern over the impact that the ordinance would have on Rite Way Shuttle, and noted that the property destruction he witnessed was worse before the bus service became operational 13 years ago. 

“Making the restriction on the bus so restrictive that the operator can’t afford to do business, that’s just simply throwing the baby out with the bath water, and I don’t think that’s anything we want to do,” he said. 

UW-Eau Claire dean of students Joe Abhold said while he supports portions of the ordinance, he advocated for students’ voices to be reflected in development of the ordinance. 

He pointed out that a vast majority of students are committed to safe neighborhoods and are making contributions in communities through work, volunteering and other off-campus efforts. 

Councilman Michael Xiong was absent. 

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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