Champaign City Council votes no to underage drinking enforcement ordinance

Champaign City Council voted five to four not to pass an ordinance calling for support of an intergovernmental federal grant application for underage drinking enforcement.

Because the ordinance did not pass, the city, the University, Urbana and the Mental Health Center of Champaign County and the State of Illinois will not participate in applying for a federal college discretionary grant called “Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws.”

The Mental Health Center of Champaign County called for the ordinance as a move toward decreasing the overconsumption of alcohol in Champaign.

The ordinance review said the Mental Health Center of Champaign County was given $360,000 to develop a plan to address this issue. From that amount, the group will spend $54,000 each year for enforcement for a total of three years.

The new ordinance requested to apply for federal money to increase funding for the project.

“Before we consider applying for a grant, we must address the morality of accepting federal, state money for local purposes,” said Thomas Bruno, council member-at large. “You need to be intellectually consistent and true to your principles if we’ve been saying it’s not fair to spend the state’s taxpayer’s money in our community.”

Gerald Schweighart, Champaign mayor, said he agreed with Bruno.

He added that with the state of the economy, using state money for local purposes is something to be careful in considering.

Bruno added that although working for a federal grant does not seem plausible, the Champaign community does experience a greater occurrence of underage alcohol consumption compared with other cities.

“The fact always seems to sneak up on us during the second half of February,” Bruno said. “We need to ask ourselves: how can we modify this behavior for the better of our community?”

Lt. Brad Yohnka, of the Champaign police department, said the ordinance would also have worked to regulate “party-buses.” Party-buses are especially problematic around Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, when they bring in underage teenagers from other communities, Yohnka said.

“The issue with party-buses is they become a mobile bar, which we can have no control over,” Yohnka said. “There are no safety provisions. We need measures to control this.”

Of greater concern to council members is students opting to drink at privately owned properties, rather than at bars, Bruno said. Unlike bars, apartment buildings and Greek houses cannot be monitored as closely for underage drinking.

“We want the people of our community to be safe, and not build lifelong habits such as alcohol overconsumption,” Bruno said. “But we want to be careful not to drive kids to drinking at private parties. It’s much worse for us to have students drinking in apartments than at a public bar where its activity can be watched.”