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Next Time...Let's Work Together

County commission meeting to keep alcohol out of Community Building
by

L D

on 13 August 2010

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Transcript of Next Time...Let's Work Together

IN THE BEGINNING...
The Central Kansas Free Fair Board requested
The Dickinson County Commissioners to approve
alcohol use at Sterl Hall in December 2009. BACKGROUND CHECK
Sterl Hall is a county owned building
located in the city limits adjacent to the
fairgrounds.
Alcohol has not been allowed at Sterl Hall
since May-July 1979 when it was quickly repealed
because of public uproar and the injury of two police
officers who tried to break up a fight. NOT HERE, NOT NOW! ....or "The Case Against"

The Dickinson County Task Force to Reduce Underage Drinking
took a stand that alcohol at Sterl Hall would encourage access for underage drinking in Dickinson County and add another venue in the community of Abilene where alcohol is served and youth are present and potential consumers. Especially disconcerting was one of the major proponents for the issue was a group that advertises for and recruits for youth participation. Sterl Hall is a county owned building in a family friendly area in the center of historic Eisenhower Park. The Task Force decided to step up and ensure that the County Commissioners heard their concerns about adding another location with youth alcohol accessibility. WHO DID IT & WHAT DID THEY DO?
Members of the Dickinson County Task Force to
Reduce Underage Drinking (The Task Force) went to
a Fair Board Meeting to hear what they were proposing. The Youth Sector
Rep phoned and e-mailed key community members prior to the commissioners meeting.
A prominent community member and Task Force member also called & e-mailed
constituents in the County.
Then members of the Task Force attended the Dickinson County
Commissioners work session. This work session drew such a crowd
that it was moved from the regular meeting place to the basement meeting
room of the Courthouse.
Attendees at the meeting were given the opportunity to speak their
view on the issue. The Youth Sector Rep spoke his view and the rep.
from RPC also gave her view. The work session ended and the Commissioners
meeting continued at which the Parent Sector Rep added her plea.
WHO KNEW ABOUT IT AND HOW?
Media coverage was excellent! Local cable
Channel 2/Eagle Communications filmed the
County Commissioner's meeting and showed it
repeatedly on Local Channel 2. The Abilene
Reflector-Chronicle Newspaper kept the public
up to date with news articles. Editorials were
written, both for and against. The Task Force Chairperson
wrote an editorial--not an easy thing to do in this small
community over a highly charged issue!

WHAT MADE IT DIFFICULT?
Abilene is a small community where"everyone" knows your name...if they don'tknow your "name", they know your face. The issue of Underage Drinking is very controversial and social norms are deeply imbedded here. Many people in the community do not understand that the Task Force is working to prevent Underage Drinking and are not prohibitionists. There are always two sides (at least) to every story and in this case it pitted friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor. It was amazing to me that having a different opinion than someone else was cause for abandonment of a friendship or acquaintance.
Looking at it from both sides...
What made this so hard was the fact that the Task Force understood that it is hard economic times and the Fair Board was looking for a way to help cover the funds they lost from the commission's budget restraints. And it was clear that the Fair Board's motive and intent was not to encourage underage drinking and honest attempts were going to be made to prevent underage people from purchasing and consuming. However, the Task Force also had knowledge that this was a precursor to allowing alcohol at the Fair during the rodeo, demolition derby and a Beer Garden and felt it in the community's best interest to not add additional venues where alcohol was allowed intended for family events not to mention the difficulty of controlling the consumption at such venues. Risky Business
It was impressive to see the risks that
some people (on both sides of the issue) were
willing to take. The parent sector rep that spoke
at the commission meeting risked relationships
with those that were on the other "side". The Youth sector rep spoke confidently and passionately in front of a room full of adults with a different opinion than him at the risk of ridicule not only from the adults in the room, but also from his peers that would certainly see the video or read it in the papers.
WHY HERE, WHY NOW? or The Case For...
The argument FOR having alcohol at Sterl Hall was portrayed as economic. Due to the economic downturn, funding was cut to the Central Kansas Free Fair by the County Commission due to budget constraints. "Many" groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, have apparently requested the use of Sterl Hall since it is a large capacity building and others wanted to use it for wedding receptions. Due to the "no alcohol" policy, these groups did not wish to use the Hall and some took their business to nearby towns or other venues in Abilene that could not accomodate their entire group. Especially supportive for allowing alcohol at Sterl Hall was the local Pheasants Forever chapter. This group has an annual banquet that has outgrown their current location which is the local Elks Club which does serve alcohol. Part of the mission of the Pheasants Forever is to encourage youth interest in hunting and they recruit new youth and existing youth hunters through the annual banquet. They needed a larger venue to serve alcohol at an event geared toward youth. V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!!!
The Dickinson County Commission voted 2-1
to keep alcohol out of Sterl Hall!!!

Why SO challenging?
I think the big challenge,(issue itself being excluded)
for our group was being so outnumbered. Not just physical
numbers of individuals, but businesses, agencies, groups, etc. The
supporters of the policy change to allow alcohol at Sterl Hall
far outnumbered the opponents. It is a daunting task to pit
yourself against an 'army' when you are a 'troop'. That being said,
our Task Force rose to the occassion by having accurate data that
was conveyed by passionate people. We had very well-respected
community members speaking on our behalf. What we lacked for
in quantity--we made up for in quality! Is this important?
As I read through this story, I imagine that it doesn't
sound very complicated, very challenging, very important or that big of a
deal to the average "Joe". However, I think people that work with these types of challenges day in and day out, or those whose lives have been affected by alcohol or underage drinking...they just might understand the underlying importance of this event. On the surface, it just appears to be two groups
of people with different views trying to get what they want in a small community. Underneath that, however, I see an effort by the "few"
to keep one more "family friendly environment"...just that...."family friendly" and an effort to keep alcohol access out of the hands of youth. If this effort stopped only one youth from being involved in a tragedy or from a lifetime of abuse then each challenge is worth the effort. In this small community there are numerous other venues to serve alcohol-- to those of legal age. A lesson learned...
Looking back on the chain of events of this story
made me think of a truck stuck in the snow. Both groups
wheels were spinning to get out of the snowbank and
if we would have just pooled our energy and worked together it would be like having 4-wheel drive! Better yet, we may have avoided getting stuck in the first place and both groups may have arrived at a destination suitable to both.
This is just one small victory in one of many challenges that lie ahead for the people fighting the fight against underage drinking. I have learned along the way that this is an awesome community to live, work and play. We have youth worth setting good examples for and worth doing the hard work to help lead them to be successors for our future. We have an amazing amount of ???? resources and if awareness continues to rise and those resources continue to work together in preventing underage drinking, I think you will see amazing progress made in our community. I say, "Next time, let's work together!"

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