By Josh Newton
TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah city councilors have given the approval to test controlled, open consumption of low-point beer during a two-day music festival in October in Norris Park.
Councilors voted 3-1 in favor of the resolution proposed by Police Chief Nate King, with Ward 3 Councilor Maurice Turney being the lone vote against it.
“The people who I represent within my ward, the majority of them would want me to vote no for this,” Turney told King during Tuesday night’s council meeting.
King asked councilors to allow attendees of the North End Music Festival, Oct. 4-5, to carry 3.2 beer from The Branch, The Grill, and Ned’s into the music festival in Norris Park. King said Main Street Association Director Drew Haley has applied for permission to sell low-point beer at Norris Park during the event. The low-point beer would be required to be in plastic cups, and must be purchased at the Norris Park beer garden, Ned’s, The Branch, or The Grill.
“Plans for the event are to block off north Muskogee Avenue from the intersection of Morgan Street to Goingsnake, to close off Norris Park,” said King. “The streets surrounding Norris Park will be contained. Fifty feet from (nearby businesses), people will be consuming low-point beer, so my suggestion tonight is to pass a resolution allowing patrons from those businesses, and including Ned’s, to be able to carry low-point alcohol from those businesses in a plastic cup to and from Norris Park so that they can both frequent the businesses and the music festival at the same time.”
King promised added police presence in the park. The main street association will also be hiring off-duty police as security, and King said some of the downtown establishments have considered doing the same.
“This resolution would in no way negate Oklahoma state statutes or Tahlequah city ordinances involving public intoxication, disturbing the peace and things of that nature,” said King.
King told Turney he understands his concerns.
“I knew that this would be a touchy subject as far as, there are some risks with it,” King said. “I figure an event like this would be a prime opportunity for a test run, a real-live experiment, so that we can analyze the data as to the pros and cons of open consumption of alcohol in the heart of Tahlequah. I am prepared to support this and put the manpower there that will ensure the safety of the attendees of the music festival and attendees of The Branch, The Grill, Ned’s, and all other businesses in the North End District.”
Turney asked King how police officers will deal with those who become intoxicated at the music festival.
“When some of the people who are there get intoxicated that night — and they’ll get intoxicated, even though you may not think so — will they be arrested for public intoxication?” he asked King.
King said people arrested for public intoxication typically have caused some sort of disturbance.
“I feel like there will be persons that probably drink one too many at the event,” King said. “I don’t think it will be hundreds of people; I think it will be single-digit numbers of people, because we’ll have added presence there that will be visible, and I think it will keep the event quiet and peaceful. We will deal with situations as needed if we have any unruly or loud attendees.”
Turney also asked whether police will check IDs.
“One of the concerns I have: We don’t let teenagers go to bars, but now we are bringing the bars out in Norris Park; we’re bringing the drinks out there,” said Turney. “There are going to be minors there.”
King said officers will check anyone who could be underage, but said the Main Street Association and the nearby establishments that sell the low-point beer will also assist in that process.
Haley told the council that the beer garden in Norris Park, if approved, will be on the concrete slab and enclosed with a fence. Those who purchase beer at the park will be ID’d and given a wristband to wear.
King said he would meet with representatives from Ned’s, The Branch, and The Grill to see whether they might purchase the same type of plastic cups in which to serve the low-point beer, and that would help officers identify anyone who breaks the consumption rules. Haley said he could also look into giving those establishments the same wristbands for customers who buy alcohol.
“I don’t know that I’m for or against the open consumption of alcohol, but I felt that it was a good, controlled environment — or as controlled an environment that we can get — to test this, and to see if there are negative effects,” King said. “I don’t foresee any major problems. I feel like probably our biggest problem is going to be litter in this event.”
City employees now may receive “educational incentive” pay for completion of an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree from an accredited college or university.
Full-time employees who work at least 40 hours per week, and who have been employed with the city for one year, can earn the incentive.
Those who qualify will receive $15 per pay period for an associate’s degree; $25 per pay period for a bachelor’s; or $50 if they have a master’s.
Payments will be made in a lump sum on the anniversary of the employee’s hire date, Smith said. All pay increases are subject to budget availability.
Elected officials cannot receive the educational pay.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to try to ‘incentive-ize’ employees to seek further training,” Mayor Jason Nichols said.
Smith said the program will be retroactive to last July.
Josh Newton writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.