Fair Board Clears Beer Garden Hurdle with Commissioners

County Commish Beer Garden (3)The Sand and Sage Fair Board, by a two to one vote from the County Commissioners, received approval to apply for a special events permit to host a beer garden during four events in this year’s Sand and Sage Fair.  This clears the path for the fair board to request a permit from the City of Lamar before the annual August events begin.  After the vote was taken, Fair Board President, Mark Carrigan, said the organization will seek a public hearing date for a permit request to the City of Lamar and make their presentation to the council.  Commissioner Henry Schnabel cast the lone vote opposing the request from the Fair Board.

The commissioner’s meeting room was at capacity on Tuesday, June 9, as interested parties presented their opinions on opening the door to officially serving beer on county property during a county sanctioned event.  It was generally accepted that illegal alcohol consumption has been a part of past county fairs or other events, usually in parking lots, trailers or campers over the years.  But as many times as the idea of legally serving beer during the fair has come up, it has been put down before the matter came before the county commissioners for a vote of approval.

County Commish Beer Garden (4)Most everyone who spoke before the commissioners generally agreed that non-sanctioned alcohol has long been consumed during past events, but that didn’t mean it was condoned.  Both the county and city have a legal weigh in as although the Prowers County Sheriff’s Office maintains a security presence during the fair, it’s the Lamar Police Department that enforces the controlling ordinance pertaining to alcohol.  Prowers County Sheriff, Sam Zordel, explained that his office can assist the Lamar Police Department if need be, but the county would have to pass and post its own ordinance before the Deputies could act on their own.  The Fair Board needs to hold a public hearing to receive the go ahead for a special events permit from the City of Lamar.  If approved, beer will be served to persons 21 or over only from a tent located near the tube setting contests, west of the arena and south of the fairgrounds bleachers from 6pm to 11pm on Saturday, August 1, during the annual concert.  The three other days will be Thursday, August 6, from 3pm to 11pm during the Ranch Rodeo which may be moved from Sunday, and both nights of the PRCA Rodeo, August 7th and 8th from 3pm to 11pm.

Carrigan said he realizes people could be uneasy with change, “This is one issue we get beat up on every year. I understand that something like this can be hard to accept, but we know that this has been considered and talked about for some time, but we need to be proactive.  We know that attendance numbers are dwindling and serving beer, in a controlled environment, is one way to increase the annual attendance.  As a fair board, we have to do what people ask us to do.”  Carrigan explained that with a beer tent, there would be more control over any drinking that occurs at the fairgrounds.  He reviewed an outline of events at which beer would be served, and said the tent would have a capacity of 49 persons at one time.  He added that each server would be TIP trained to ensure that no one under the legal age is drinking or that anyone is drinking too much.  Others who spoke in favor of the permit included Lisa Carder, Lamar Chamber Office Manager and Pat Palmer, who addressed some concerns relating to serving alcohol, “These people aren’t fostering to have a herd of drunks out there.  It will be controlled and the added revenue will help to make the fair self-supporting.”

Former county commissioner Joe Marble didn’t address the legalities or social perspective of serving beer to the public, but focused on having the county financially shore up the Fair Board.  “The people who need to be more proactive are you three sitting over there (indicating the commissioners). If the Fair Board needs an extra $20,000 to put on a fair, you need to give it to them.  You’ve probably got $4 million dollars sitting there.  I know that and you know that.  And if they need more money to put on a fair, that is your responsibility, not their responsibility.    So you people need to stand up and be the first ones to be proactive instead of asking them to go out and make more money.”

County Commish Beer Garden (5)Commissioner Ron Cook, who took over Marble’s seat last year, rejoined, “We have not asked them to go out, sir.  This has been an issue for the last ten years and you have been there, okay?  And they have been shut down, they have been hammered, they have been screamed at, at their meetings because they even proposed it.  I’ve heard this during meetings time after time, ‘We’re all opposed to the beer garden, but what goes on behind some areas, and we just let it roll’.  They haven’t asked us for extra money; they took this on their self to be helpful.”

Marble stated he wasn’t being critical of the commissioners, just making the statement that the board should be given extra funding for the fair.    He added, “We don’t want to see this fair go away,” to which both men agreed.  Marble added, “We also need to fund the one in Holly.  I don’t know how the one in Holly exists with what little money they get.  We need to put part of that money back into entertainment and make it a more enjoyable fair. They shouldn’t worry about the extra money; that should be the county’s concern.

Pastor Lance Halford of the Missionary Baptist Church noted that a beer tent would send the wrong message to area youth with its presence at the fairgrounds.  “What do I tell my three children who are nine, five and three years old?  If we put this tent up, are we telling our children it’s alright to drink?  If we advertise wrong, then our children will grow up thinking it’s okay to be wrong.  Some commissioners think it might be good to have the tent and others are opposed, but my question is, is it good to advertise wrong, for our children?

County Commish Beer Garden (2)Commissioner Henry Schnabel, who has long been opposed to serving alcohol at a county event, addressed the gathering. “I appreciate the fair board and all that they do.  I know how hard they work each year at the fair.  During my tenure and my campaigns, this issue has come up and I have always taken the stand that the fair is for families, it’s for people to come and enjoy.”  The commissioner said some events can become loud and unruly and remarked how folks say the beer will just be under the tent, commenting that that was true of the state fair for a number of years, but was a stepping stone to drinking everywhere and it would eventually be the same situation in Prowers County.  He added, “This issue is a vast departure from what has traditionally been in Prowers County.  I don’t know if you realize how much of a change this will bring in our society by introducing this into our county fair.  I truly take a stand to say no, I don’t believe that we need this at the county fair.”  Schnabel said he didn’t see how the drinking in back of the chutes could be controlled and it has been an acknowledged issue.  He differentiated his stance on the issue, stating that he wasn’t opposed to beer tent events in the county, but not on county property.  He concluded that, “This is a negative for the county fair that will impact us for years to come.”  Schnabel did say that he felt the matter should go before the people on a countywide ballot and let them decide how the future fairs would be conducted.  He stated he would abide by the decision either way, “It shouldn’t be for just three people sitting up here to decide.  I propose it become a county issue and go on a ballot instead of coming before the commissioners each year.”

Following the vote, Mark Carrigan said the next step will be to go before the Lamar City Council and get on their agenda for a public hearing regarding the board’s request for a special events permit from the city.  That will have to be posted for thirty days before comments from the public can be heard and a ruling made by the council.

By Russ Baldwin

Brought to you by: Colorado East Bank & Trust

Brought to you by: Colorado East Bank & Trust

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