County to have hearing on social host proposal

Mille Lacs County residents will get a chance to give input on a proposal for a social host ordinance in the county.
The public hearing is tentatively set for the County Board’s May 19 regular meeting beginning at 9 a.m. in the county’s historic courthouse in Milaca. (The date and time had not been confirmed as of press deadline.)
A social host ordinance holds people criminally liable if they host a party at which persons under 21 possess or consume alcohol, regardless of who supplies the alcohol.
The board didn’t agree to having a public hearing on the matter until after a second discussion between Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh and the board in which Walsh recommended the county have such an ordinance. He first talked to the board about the subject during the board’s April 7 workshop in the historic courthouse workshop room, and then again at the board’s April 21 workshop.
During the first workshop, Commissioner Genny Reynolds, Princeton, spoke in favor of Walsh’s proposal, which also has Sheriff Brent Lindgren’s support. But Commissioners Roger Tellinghuisen, David Oslin, Tim Wilhelm and Phil Peterson (board chair), voiced opposition.
Tellinghuisen reversed himself during the April 21 workshop to the extent that he spoke for at least having a public hearing on the proposal. He explained that he had thought about the idea since the April 7 discussion and came to see some merits in having the ordinance. Reynolds, who represents the city of Princeton, which has a social host ordinance, repeated her support at the April 21 workshop for passing a social host ordinance.
Wilhelm, who represents the city of Pease and the townships of Greenbush, Milo and Princeton, said his opposition has to do with worrying that if someone is charged with violating a social host ordinance, the public will assume the person is guilty before the judicial process is completed.
Walsh said he doesn’t believe the public assumes guilt if someone is charged and hasn’t gone through the entire court process. He also repeated what he had said at the first workshop, that he does not bring charges against someone unless he feels the evidence strongly supports it. The benefit of a social host ordinance is that it shows the county does not condone people hosting parties with alcohol for underage persons, Walsh said.
Peterson questioned if the input at a public hearing would be a fair gauge of what the county’s residents think about a social host ordinance, Peterson stating that public hearings aren’t well attended.
Commissioners then debated whether the time of day that a public hearing is conducted affects the attendance much, discussing whether morning hearings make it too challenging for many working people to attend. Peterson argued that the county doesn’t make special scheduling for public hearings on other subjects, other than on the mandated evening times for tax levy proposals.
The discussion on the subject ended at the April 21 meeting when Peterson said OK to having a public hearing on the matter.
Hot topic in Morrison County
Adjacent Morrison County had a similar debate this spring and it led to the Morrison commissioners rejecting a proposed social host ordinance there in a 3-2 vote last week. Morrison conducted two public hearings on the matter – one in the evening  and one in the morning – and the hearings drew crowds of 35-40 each time, according to Morrison County Record reporter Gabby Landsverk.
The gist of the debate, according to Landsverk, was that no one who gave input condoned underage drinking, but many worried that some innocent people might “get hung out to dry” if charged with breaking such an ordinance. Also, many felt that teens should take self responsibility to not break the underage drinking law.
Morrison commissioners received a lot of phone calls from constituents and there was also sentiment in support of such an ordinance.