Thursday, October 18, 2018

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Possible changes to EC public good order ordinance making rounds

Students, groups, public will see new draft before vote

  • EC-CityHall-jpg-9

    Eau Claire City Hall building on July 15, 2010.

    Staff file photo by Dan Reiland

  • Elizabeth-Giese

Potential changes to an Eau Claire city law intended to reduce problems in neighborhoods caused by excessively drunken people are expected to come up for a vote in autumn.

But before that happens, members of a city task force plan to visit community, student and business groups to discuss their proposed revisions to Eau Claire’s public good order ordinance.

“The group really felt it was important to share the accomplishments of the task force and what it learned,” said Eau Claire City-County Health Department director Lieske Giese.

She led meetings of the task force formed by the City Council in response to dissent over changes proposed in March to the 1953 public good order ordinance.

The task force met six times over four months, wrapping up its work last month. The group included city officials, college leaders, student representatives, tavern owners, police officers and neighborhood leaders.

“It was just such a unique opportunity to hear all those perspectives in one space,” Giese said.

As a whole, that group’s last meeting was July 12, but individual members intended to bring their work to others who may want a say in the public good order ordinance and issues involving excessive drinking.

Neighborhood associations, UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College student groups, tavern owners, landlords and business groups are among those that task force members intend to visit.

In addition to revisions to the public good order ordinance, task force members will spread other ideas they developed for how the community can address problem drinking.

Diversion program

Violations of the city’s current public good order ordinance carry a fine and court costs totaling $213. That would increase to $295 under the proposed changes.

But the city also wants a diversion program available so those cited for public good order violations could take a class to get their fine dropped.

“It won’t be a brand new program necessarily but with some additional content with the existing framework,” assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger said.

Similar classes for first-offense underage drinking and retail theft already are available through UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire County district attorney’s office and some websites.

If the city does approve an updated public good order ordinance, UW-Eau Claire student body President Branden Yates said a diversion program would be a necessity.

He served on the task force but said he isn’t yet comfortable supporting the whole ordinance.

“I’m interested in working with our community partners and promoting a more positive cultural change rather than passing this ordinance,” Yates said in an email.

The city’s attempt to update the 1953 ordinance in March brought resistance from UW-Eau Claire students who were upset they didn’t have a say in changing a local law they believed would affect them. Third Ward and Historic Randall Park neighborhood association members agreed more feedback on the ordinance changes would be beneficial.

Drafting changes

After the version proposed in March drew controversy, the task force suggested tweaks to parts of the public good order ordinance that were criticized for being too vague.

The task force wanted public intoxication only to be an offense if it’s excessive and the person already has or is reasonably likely to cause harm to themselves or others or create a disturbance.

That change draws a distinction between a drunken person safely walking home on the sidewalk versus someone in the road amid traffic, according to notes from task force meetings.

Including symptoms of excessive alcohol or drug use such as vomiting, public urination, disorientation and an inability to make rational decisions were also suggested by the task force for the ordinance.

One of the most controversial sections of the March draft of the ordinance would’ve impacted private shuttle buses — which prompted Right Way Shuttle to cancel its regular bar-time route but still provide for-hire charter service — also got tweaked by the task force.

Under the March version, dropping off 10 or more people on a residential block between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. would be prohibited, except for city buses. However, the task force wanted an exception for when residents give their permission for a shuttle to drop off a large group of people in front of their home.

Another task force addition is an exception for vehicles picking up people so they can safely get home.

Leaving inner tubes and other inflatables — often used by people to float down the Chippewa River — outside a home for more than a day would’ve been illegal under the version of the ordinance proposed in March.

That’s been removed from the latest draft, but leaving other items outdoors would still be deemed a “physical neighborhood disruption.” Signs of house parties spilling out onto lawns, namely indoor furniture kept outside, game tables and large accumulations of cans, bottles and cups would be violations of the public good order ordinance.

Other parts of the ordinance have and would continue to prohibit loitering and intentionally blocking people from using a bridge or sidewalk.

The 1953 version of the ordinance includes that annoying people who are going in and out of a building would be among citable offenses. But the task force wanted “annoy” replaced with “harass.”

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter


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