The open container issue in Lake Ozark has a heartbeat.
The board of aldermen Monday afternoon did not close the door on the possibility of allowing a limited, tightly regulated, one-time-only suspension of the open container law for the Shootout Meet-and-Greet event in August.
The board has at least once turned down the prospect of allowing opening containers of alcohol within the city of Lake Ozark. Some board members have adamantly opposed a blanket lifting of the law that prohibits the consumption of alcohol anywhere other than in a legally permitted area.
But a specific request by the Shootout Committee to allow open containers during a specified time, in a specified location with tight security and adherence to a specific set of rules did not fall on deaf ears. After nearly 90 minutes of discussion during a special work session, the board is cautiously moving forward with the possible development of an ordinance designed specially for the Meet and Greet.
“This is the most open and best discussion we’ve had on this issue since I’ve been here,” Alderman Tony Otto said.
There was no vote taken, but the general consensus was that the board is at least willing to consider an ordinance that outlines strict guidelines for allowing open containers during the popular August event. Boat owners and their crews park race boats down the center of the strip for about four hours each year to promote the Shootout, drawing thousands of spectators.
Jeff Carroll, co-chairman of the Meet and Greet, submitted a letter to the city requesting that the open container rules be suspended for the event. City officials told him that all of the bars on the strip must sign off on insurance, liability and legal aspects before an ordinance will be drafted for consideration.
“It’s all or none,” he was told by one board member.
City Attorney Roger Gibbons, who shared several of his concerns, will draw up a checklist that every bar on the strip must agree to, and then take it before the board for its review. Carroll was given the charge of meeting with bar owners.
Alderman Larry Buschjost, one of the most adamant opponents of lifting the open container ban, said at the start of the meeting that he has not changed his mind.
He wondered how the city would make exceptions to the law, said he was afraid the city might be setting itself up for lawsuits, wondered if private security on public property was legal, wondered how people could be prevented from bringing coolers with alcoholic beverages into the area and said he didn’t think businesses would benefit from lifting the open container ban.
Page 2 of 2 - His suggestion that the city contact its insurance carrier promoted input from City Administrator Dave Van Dee who said the city’s immediate exposure is $75,000 in deductibles.
“Our carrier is happy with the progress Lake Ozark is making, but this makes them nervous,” he said.
Aldermen agreed that simply lifting the open container law was not an option.
“Just to have people walking around with alcohol is not acceptable,” Alderman Judy Neels said. “I won’t go along with coolers and with people sitting in cars drinking.”
Alderman Jeff Van Donsel tempered the discussion a bit by saying he hopes “the city is open minded.”
The request by the Shootout committee is not “to blindly do away with the open container law.” He said it is important to “understand the benefits of a controlled area” and that crafting a specific ordinance would help promote not only business but also the city’s image.
“The Meet and Greet brings tens of millions of dollars worth of boats to Lake Ozark, and with that are people who invest in our community and who might return,” Van Donsel said. “This event does not promote public drunkenness.”
He said he feels the event can be controlled so that there are no problems.
Alderman Tony Otto said he “has always been of the mindset if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. But I’m also open minded.”
“I’m not completely opposed to it, but I would want it to be rock solid. It’s our responsibility that we don’t to put us or the city in jeopardy.”
And Betsey Browning, the newest member of the board, said “the law is there for a reason. But I do think that there are times if it’s handled properly I would not be opposed to it.”
Police Chief Mark Maples also shared his concerns.
“Whatever you do sends mixed signals on when someone can drink and when they can’t,” he said.
As the discussion evolved, aldermen continued to agree that there are several issues that need to be resolved before an ordinance is considered. City Attorney Gibbons insisted that bar owners understand they have a significant commitment in the process, and that “the city would want to be an additional insured” to be protected from lawsuits.
The general concept is that bars would have to agree to a specific area for open containers, and each bar would have to seek a caterer’s permit that outlines the same area for containers.