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Paynesville Press - July 11, 2001

City residents to vote on serving liquor on Sundays

By Michael Jacobson

Whether the city of Paynesville should change its ordinance to allow liquor to be served on Sundays is back on the ballot seven months after the measure was defeated by 26 votes in the general election last fall.

The measure was put on the ballot for the first time in the city of Paynesville last November and was defeated with 508 votes for the change and 534 against. Fifty-five ballots last November were left blank on the liquor question.

Eligible voters in the city of Paynesville can go to the polls at the Paynesville Fire Hall on Tuesday, July 17, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at city hall during regular office hours up until July 17, including Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 14.

Allowing liquor to be served on Sundays is necessary for bars to be open on that day of the week, said Doris Wendlandt, owner of Queen Bee's Bar and Grill. Wendlandt approached the city last fall to get the measure on the ballot and went door-to-door to raise a 220-signature petition this spring to get a special election on the issue. That petition was actually not legally valid (because of a technicality), and the council split 3-2 over whether to require Wendlandt to redo the petition or to put the issue to an election.

A tie-breaking vote from Mayor Jeff Thompson was needed for the special election. He joined with council members Jean Soine and Harlan Beek in favor of the referendum. Council members Dave Peschong and Dennis Zimmerman preferred having Wendlandt redo her petition for an election. (A petition with 20 percent of the voters in the last general election is needed to force a special election.)

"It's important to me," said Wendlandt of the measure, "because I've listened to a lot of local and lake people who want some place in the community to go on Sundays." Because opening a bar without alcohol would not be feasible (too tempting to customers, Wendlandt says), she currently directs them to places out of town. "A lot of lake people ask us where to go and we have to send them out of town," she explained.

If the ordinance change passes, Wendlandt plans to open her downtown bar for lunch and football games. "A lot of people want to come to town and have a burger and a beer," she said.

If the public passes the ordinance change at the referendum, the city council would still have the authority to make the change to allow serving liquor on Sunday or not. The council also would have the power to regulate the hours that bars could be open on Sunday.

Wendlandt feels the lack of Sunday liquor sales has a wider impact on the community than a few lost sales at her establishment. "Anytime you bring people to your community they stop at convenience stores, grocery stores, and retail stores," she explained. "They're going to be using not only my facilities but other businesses as well."

Another option Sunday liquor sales would offer is the possibility for special events, Wendlandt said. The American Legion does not plan on opening its bar on a regular basis, but changing the ordinance would allow the facility to sell liquor for special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays on Sundays, according to Lucy Hoppe, Legion manager.

The Legion does hold some special events on Sundays without serving alcohol. The ordinance change could result in more bookings from people who want alcohol served at a special occasion, but Hoppe isn't too concerned about whether the change is made or not. "If it passes, I'm sure we'll use it," she said, "but if it doesn't, it won't really affect us."

The ban on Sunday liquor started years ago, when Sundays were treated differently than the other days of the week, with few, if any, stores open. Doris Nehring, who has lived in Paynesville for more than 60 years, feels businesses don't need to be open on Sundays. "They need to keep the Sabbath holy," she said.

"In the first place, I'm opposed to booze," she added. "In the second place, if those people who sell it can't make enough money in six days, they shouldn't take the Lord's Day."

"If you have to drink on Sunday, take it home on Saturday and leave the bars closed on Sundays," Nehring continued. "At least you will be home one day with your family."

Eileen Werner also opposes changing the ordinance to allow liquor sales on Sunday for religious reasons. "I have a different respect for Sunday than that kind of activity," she said of drinking alcohol. "I think Sundays should be a day for families and for worship."

"I don't go shopping on Sundays, so I don't see the need for liquor to be served on Sundays," she continued

"Those not wanting it should be out there because those who want the liquor will keep pushing," Nehring added.

Should the measure fail, Wendlandt might pursue it again, depending on the support shown for Sunday liquor sales. "I understand and respect the religious beliefs of people," she said. "I hope they can understand and respect my reasons for being open."

Special elections are more costly for the city to hold than a vote in conjunction with a general election, said Chris Lundgren, an accounting and payroll clerk who is the election officer for the city. The city estimates the special election will cost $1,200 to $1,500.

This will be the first special election during Lundgren's nine years with the city as the election officer. "Before that no one seems to remember one either," Lundgren said.

Along with the normal expenses of publishing and election judges, the city has to handle more responsibilities for a special election, like the ballots and absentee voting. Usually the county handles both of these during an election.

For ballots, the city will use hand-counted ballots, and not ones that can be scanned. The ballots for the city's scanners are expensive to purchase, Lundgren said.

The turnout at a special election is difficult to predict, added Lundgren, who said the city has plenty of ballots.

Absentee ballot applications – normally handled by the county auditor – are available at city hall during regular office hours. Any city resident who can't make it to vote at the fire hall on Tuesday, July 17, can fill out the absentee application and vote early. City hall will also open on Saturday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for absentee voting.

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