Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
Beer still on menu
After third vote and more controversy, alcohol will still go on sale at Mercer County Fair
By Timothy Cox
The battle over beer at the Mercer County Fair rages on.
Residents opposing the planned sale of beer at this summer's fair again packed the house for Tuesday's monthly fair board meeting. Although support for beer sales has waned among some board members, alcohol sales in a confined beer garden are expected to go on as planned.
A second vote to overturn the plan to sell beer was defeated Tuesday.
A crowd of about 75 packed the meeting room, the third month in a row the beer issue has stirred people to attend the meetings. People on both sides of the issue drew applause after their comments on several occasions.
A couple of people wore T-shirts with the slogan "No Beer at the Mercer County Fair" and a picture of a frothy mug of beer with a red circle around it and a slash through it.
Board President Steve Seitz originally limited the public comment on the beer issue to 30 minutes with people who had not previously spoken on the issue given first priority. He allowed the stream of comments to continue for a few extra minutes past the original deadline, but grew testy a couple of times.
"I don't care for you to speak, please," Seitz told one woman who was offering documents to support someone else's argument.
"I didn't address you," he told another woman who tried to interject a comment.
Bob Shinn said he supports the board's decision to sell beer at the fair, which runs Aug. 7-13.
"People think it's a blown out, drunken affair. It's not. If you don't want beer, you don't drink beer," Shinn said, adding that he believes 75 percent of Mercer County citizens drink beer.
Lana Samaniego said she agreed with Shinn's estimate of the number of drinkers, but said that is a reason fair board members should not embrace alcohol sales. The county has an alarmingly high rate of alcoholism, Samaniego said, adding she is "violently opposed" to the board's plans to sell beer.
"They've blown it so out of proportion like somebody's going to go in there and drink 20 beers," said Terry Selhorst, who identified himself as an American Legion member.
The Rev. Bruce Head criticized board members for ignoring the desires of 900 people who signed various petitions asking the board to drop their plans.
Seitz called the beer issue a tale of two cultures in the county.
"Right or wrong, the southern part of the county is just as much for the beer as you are against it," Seitz said.
Opponents of the beer sales generally point to the fact they want the fair to remain a family-friendly event where kids are not exposed to alcohol usage. Supporters say beer and family fun can co-exist, pointing to other area festivals, including the first Mercer County Ribfest held at the fairgrounds a few weeks ago.
Fair officials reminded opponents that beer sales will be tightly controlled in a beer garden area on the east end of the grandstand. Beer also will be sold during selected grandstand events. All beer drinkers will have to show identification, and sales will be limited to two beers per purchase. Beer sales can be shut down by fair officials at any time for any reason.
Fair board member Tim Pearson reminded those against the planned sales that beer won't be sold during the morning and early afternoon hours during the fair.
"The non-beer people can come during non-sales hours," Pearson said.
Opponents say the negative effects of alcohol are bound to spill outside the controlled sales area and outside of the fairgrounds.
Rosie Hagar, a neighbor of the fairgrounds, said she worries about people leaving the fairgrounds "relieving themselves" or "chucking" on her property.
The issue to sell beer was first approved by a wide margin at the board's March meeting, despite the pleas of a large crowd. More than an hour of testimony that night came almost entirely from opponents of beer sales. Only one man spoke up to defend the fair board's plans.
At the April board meeting opponents again showed up, with board member Ivan Knapp calling on fair board members to rescind their original vote. A vote was held and the board actually voted 7-6 to drop the beer sales, but overturning the original vote requires a two-thirds supermajority. That means nine of the 13 members present that evening would have had to vote to rescind the prior action.
Another effort to rescind the beer sales was brought forth late into Tuesday's meeting, which did not wrap up until about 11:30 p.m. The motion to rescind beer sales failed, with nine votes against it and only five in favor of dumping the beer plans.