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Sims Park alcohol gets 1 year tryout

NEW PORT RICHEY — City Council member Rob Marlowe does not run a civic organization. He prefers Diet Coke to beer.

He is quick to point out these facts if you ask him his take on serving beer and wine at special events at Sims Park. Said Marlowe: "I have no dog in this hunt."

But he thought a controversial proposal to allow the sales on a limited basis might be a good thing — if opponents would give it a chance.

So on Tuesday night, he offered a compromise: Give it a one-year tryout before deciding whether to make it permanent.

The deal passed 4 to 1, winning the support of council member Bob Consalvo, who had opposed the original version. The compromise also reduces the number of special event permits for serving alcohol each year from 12 to 6, a concession sought by Consalvo.

Council member Marilynn deChant continued to oppose the plan.

At least for a year, the new ordinance does away with restrictions that put Sims Park and the Orange Lake area off limits to alcohol vendors during such events as Chasco Fiesta or Bike Week.

If in December 2009, the council decides not to renew the changes, the old restrictions would go back into effect.

No doubt the measure would have passed Tuesday without any changes, just as it did in a 3 to 2 vote in a preliminary hearing earlier this month. But opponents have threatened to force the issue to a referendum in April, which would suspend the ordinance until that vote.

Marlowe said Wednesday he hopes the compromises will dissuade opponents from trying to get the measure on the April ballot before the city can gauge the success — or failure —of allowing the alcohol sales.

"I'd hope that given we're trying to do this with a feeling for watching out for everyone that they'll at least let us give it a try," he said.

He offered the compromise after Mayor Scott McPherson offered a more complicated proposal to appease critics.

Under the City Charter, the process for putting an issue before voters requires a lot of work in a short period: Residents have only 30 days to collect enough signatures — 10 percent of the 8,825 registered votes — to start that process.

Some of the most outspoken opponents said Wednesday they were willing to wait, in large part because the expiration date makes the effort to get the issue to a vote in April seem pointless.

"With the sunset provision and the number of events being cut in half, I just can't see putting the time and effort into a recall at this point," said Greg Giordano, who organized a similar effort in 2000.

"It's disappointing, but it's not as bad as it could have been," said Daniel Rock, another opponent.

Tuesday's meeting, which was attended by close to 70 people, featured much of the same commentary as in previous meetings.

Supporters said the regulations would attract better events, bigger sponsors and would help nonprofit organizations, especially those that help the needy, raise money in a difficult economy. Opponents said the city would be inviting more irresponsible drinking, that public parks would be torn up, that voters have already spoken on this issue in 2000.

In addition, some opponents questioned whether council member Judy DeBella Thomas, the executive director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street, and McPherson, an unpaid volunteer chairman of West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, had a conflict of interest in the vote because their respective organizations would benefit.

City Attorney Tom Morrison said the ordinance applies to all nonprofits and not just the specific ones to which Thomas and McPherson belong. State law requires officials to recuse themselves only if they specifically would benefit, he said.

After Marlowe made his motion to put a sunset provision in the ordinance, Consalvo ventured that, in the spirit of compromise, he'd like to see the number of events reduced from 12 to five.

"Would that create a 'yes' vote?" McPherson asked.

Consalvo sat silent.

"That's a proverbial deer in the headlights," McPherson joked. Consalvo chuckled and said he would vote 'yes.'

Marlowe suggested they do a "round number" instead. Say, six events?

Consalvo ducked his head. deChant said she didn't see that as much of a compromise. The audience got involved. "Come on, Bob!" someone called out. Consalvo blushed a little, and then nodded.

A 3 to 2 decision became a 4 to 1 decision.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Sims Park alcohol gets 1 year tryout 11/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 8:45pm]

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