by Dino Corvino on May 29th, 2010
Having spent many evenings roaming these city streets, I am aware of the open intoxicant policy. You cannot take your glass of beer, wine, booze out in the street. You cannot walk about willy-nilly with a bottle of open booze, or something of the sort. Wausau is not new to these laws. These laws have existed for, you know, a while. We all tend to abide by them most of the time.
But now we have this interesting thing happening — downtown booze-related excitement. People were up in arms about a beer fence, and now from the 50-plus comments on the Wausau Daily Herald story, people are upset that an existing law will not be waived for a special event downtown.
As I see it, that is the crux here. The organizers of Exhibitour are asking for a waiver of this existing ordninance. According to the story in the Herald, the ordinance has been “ignored” and Deb Hadley signed a waiver in 2007. I do not understand that at all, and I went back to the committee meeting minutes from 2007. I could not find it, but to be fair, it was a lot of stuff and I might have missed it. But, according to the story, Leah Alters, former Executive Director at WAE, handed in the paperwork. And only this year, upon doing her due dilligance, did Kari discover the lack of said waiver or waiver paperwork for a few years.
By that reading, it sort of reads like everyone was in danger because the waiver was not secured by the organizing group. That seems troubling.
But more than that, what is troubling is the idea of waiving a city ordinance outside of the normal governance. This event is on June 18th. The next meeting of this committee is on the 21st of June. So, this year it would appear to be technically impossible to get a waiver, unless this committee was called into some sort of emergency session to handle the Exhibitour wine walking. I can only imagine the call of favoritism if that happens. We already have a city that thinks that far too much funding and attention goes into that small area known as downtown, and now if a small event (a few hundred people?) gets a special dispensation from the government, those calls will run wild — special treatment, inappropriate meetings, all the rest. We know that song.
I believe that if Wausau Area Events wanted or needed a waiver of this rule that WE ALL live by every other day of the year, they should be expected to follow the rules and established procedures with the city. In this case I think there is some paper work, a committee meeting appearance and presentation, and a decision from the committee and the Chief of Police. It seems cut and dry to me. If I want to have an event and need an ordinance waived for whatever reason, I trust that there is a way that sort of thing is done. I would not want to imagine just being able to call someone, and them telling me it was okay. Wausau is trying to become a real city, not a small town. We need process.
What is fascinating is a desire to make this an issue about culture. It is my understanding that you walk from location to location, and experience some art along with others from this city. I think the center of that diagram is the art or possibly the community, not the walking with an inexpensive Pinot in your hand. The rules will still allow for there to be wine at each of the locations, just not out in the street as you promenade from venue to venue. People are demonizing Councilperson Lisa Rassmussen and Chief Hardel for limiting culture. But, some might say that this is much ado about nothing. This is a waiver for an event. By not having a waiver, the activity that is not allowed is literally walking with a glass of wine in your hand from one art location to another.
Is this much ado about nothing? I think it is. I think that the art will be hung. The stores will be hosting the art. And people will get to see some great art. But, if instead the nature of this event is about wine and walking about, then I can see why people would be upset. If wine is a crucial part of the experience of Exhibitour, then clearly a waiver should be sought and the Committee should decide annually.
It seems that Councilperson Rassmussen has done the right thing. I think it is fair to ask her for her reason for denying a waiver, and I think she should be able to voice that. However, it seems like art and community are the center pieces of this event. I think we should not get distracted on walking with Pinot, and instead see this as one of the consistently cool events of the year where people get together and, in some shared experience, embrace art in many mediums.
It’s not about wine. It’s about art.