City council changes position on underage drinking grant

Champaign City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday night to support an ordinance about a federal grant application called Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws, or EUDL. This vote came after the council originally rejected the grant application Feb. 16.

Sheila Ferguson, chief executive officer of the Champaign Mental Health Center, said the grant will fund bar checks and training for officers in the Urbana, Champaign, Parkland College, University and Illinois State police departments. It will also allow the mental health center to educate others about underage drinking through campus groups, such as fraternities.

Ferguson said the grant will bring in $120,000 each year for three years with $70,000 distributed among the various police departments. She added that the remaining dollars fund the position of coordinator for the EUDL project, who is a staff member at the mental health center.

The council’s Tuesday night vote discussed the $11,000 from the grant total that would go specifically toward the city of Champaign, said Michael La Due, District 2 council member.

Champaign Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart said the grant was discussed again because it was not presented properly during the first vote. In the first vote, there was confusion among council members and a misunderstanding about the purpose of the grant.

“Some of the information should have been brought forward about what the grant was for,” Schweighart said, referencing the fact that council members did not know that rejecting the ordinance would potentially reject the entire grant.

Thomas Bruno, council member-at large, said the council has a standard rule that once an item has been defeated, it can not reappear on an agenda for six months.

“A motion was made to suspend our rule, so that the same agenda item could be put back on the agenda for the next meeting,” Bruno said. “I think fairness would dictate, if some council members have changed their mind, it’s not abusive to put the same thing back on the agenda and take another vote.”

Bruno said the mental health center will focus funds from the grant on education while the city of Champaign will focus on alcohol enforcement.

“By voting against one part of the grant package, we apparently voted against the whole thing, which would have put some TIMES Center activities in jeopardy,” La Due said.

Bruno and Schweighart were the two dissenters of the ordinance.

Bruno said there is currently a political climate that accepting grant money from the state or federal government is immoral and wasteful of government money, but he does not think that is the case. He said he had a problem with the heavy-handed enforcement of liquor laws on campus because of the unintended consequence of driving young people into private apartments and cars.

TIMES Center, 70 E. Washington St., Champaign, is a transitional living program run by the Champaign County Mental Health Center that serves homeless men in Champaign County, according to the Web site for the Mental Health Center.

“The committee that looked at the needs in Champaign County, especially on campus, focused in on the need for additional education and prevention services geared at reducing the very negative effects of underage drinking,” Ferguson said.

She added this project is in line with the mental health center’s mission to promote well-being.