Public drinking ordinance stirs debate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

[05/07/02]How often Vicksburg should suspend its law against public drinking resulted in a debate among elected officials Monday and the tabling of a request to waive the ordinance.

“There should be a stopping point somewhere,” North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said. “We used to only do this once a year for Riverfest.”

Vicksburg’s ordinance, about 12 years old, makes consuming beer, wine or whiskey in a public place a misdemeanor. It gives the Mayor and Aldermen authority to suspend enforcement, however, for specific places and times.

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Monday’s request was from Harrah’s Hotel and Casino to serve draft beer at a festival in a parking lot on May 25 and two more times during the summer. Riverfest is a citywide festival each April and the ordinance is routinely suspended for downtown and other dances where beer is sold.

So far this year, the board has been asked to waive the ordinance five times and has said yes three times and no twice.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who has voted against waiving the ordinance each time since taking office 10 months ago, said the city needs to change the law if the board is going to allow exceptions.

“Our day consists mainly of people calling us and asking for an exception to our laws,” Beauman said. “And it’s frustrating.”

Beauman and Young said they did not object specifically to the request from Harrah’s, but did not like the idea of bending the rules repeatedly.

“When are we going to stop breaking our own laws?” Young said.

Mayor Laurence Leyens pointed out that Harrah’s was asking to serve on its own property, not public property, but that he would support rewording the law to make exceptions more clear.

He also said the board should not look at drinking as a moral issue unless people want to ban alcohol in the city overall.

Although tabled, Harrah’s request will be taken up by the board Wednesday. Young indicated after the meeting she would vote for the request by Harrah’s although she wanted to see the law changed.

“What’s to stop other people from coming in and asking for a waiver to our open container ordinance?” she said.