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Paynesville Press - July 25, 2001

Sunday liquor fails at polls again

By Michael Jacobson

Serving on-sale liquor on Sundays in the city of Paynesville was defeated again by voters at a special election on Tuesday, July 17.

The vote to allow on-sale liquor sales in bars and restaurants failed by a vote of 184 for and 262 against, a margin of 78 votes.

The issue was also on the ballot last November during the general election and failed then by a margin of 26 votes. The vote then was 508 for and 534 against.

"I was very happy the way the vote went," said Doris Nehring, who voted against allowing liquor to be served on Sundays. "I was extremely joyful, and I thank the Lord all the way."

While Nehring says she understands the disappointment some might feel because of the measure's failure, she is glad that the margin of the vote was greater this time: a failure by 78 votes compared with 26 votes last November.

"Basically, I'm pleased," added Eileen Werner, another city resident who opposed having on-sale liquor on Sunday. "I'm pleased that the margin was greater, and I hope that the issue can be put to rest."

Serving on-sale liquor on Sunday now has failed twice in the city of Paynesville. In the city of Regal, a similar proposal has failed three times: in January 1999, July 1999, and September 2000.

The issue could be brought to a referendum again, either by petition or by council motion. After six months, the matter either by petition or agenda can be brought to the city council, meaning another referendum could be held in seven or eight months.

Doris Wendlandt, owner of Queen Bee's Bar and Grill, backed this measure and plans to continue to seek on-sale liquor on Sundays. "This is the way I look at it: As long as I pay real estate taxes seven days a week, I would like to be able to choose when I can be open," she said.

Wendlandt feels a need to better inform the public on the matter before another vote can be taken. "I think we need to educate people on the issue," she explained. "I don't think they understand that the reason for me to be open on Sundays is the food, football games, and private parties."

"I think they should have passed Sunday liquor because it's a personal choice whether to drink or not," agreed city resident Tina Froelich. "What's the difference if people drink at a business or at home?"

Wendlandt said she respects religious beliefs, but keeping restaurants and bars from serving alcohol on Sundays ignores the economic reality of modern Sundays. Companies work, factories run, and retail stores open on Sundays now

. Having another eating option on Sunday afternoons is why Gen Hemmesch supports Sunday on-sale liquor sales. "It's nice to socialize and have a place to eat where you don't have to drive out of town," she explained.

Wendlandt points to the economic loss of customers leaving town on Sundays as a larger reason why the town should want to end the liquor ban on Sundays. She has a business interest in the matter, but traffic on Sunday would benefit the retail stores, the city (through a Sunday liquor license), and the employees, and it would generate tax revenue.

"We're always saying how we want people to shop in Paynesville. I think that goes for all businesses, all walks of life," said Wendlandt.

Mayor Jeff Thompson supports allowing on-sale liquor to be served on Sundays, partly because the practice is legal the other six days of the week, partly out of respect to non-Christian segments of the community, and partly because it puts local businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Paynesville Township does allow on-sale liquor on Sundays, as do surrounding communities, Thompson noted.

While acknowledging that the majority rules in referendums like this, Thompson expressed some concern: "In a case like this, we have the religious community dictating to the government how to regulate business."

Turnout for the special election last Tuesday was below the turnout for the general election last fall. Nearly 1,100 voters cast ballots last fall, compared with only 446 last week.

The city of Paynesville has 1,150 registered voters, according to Chris Lundgren, an accounting and payroll clerk for the city who also serves as the election officer. Turnout of registered voters last fall was 95 percent; turnout last week was only 39 percent.

Wendlandt expected a higher turnout for the vote. "I'm really surprised that more people didn't take their time to exercise their right to vote," she said.

"I was a little surprised by the turnout, kind of surprised by the margin," added Thompson. "I thought it would be a little closer."

The special election is estimated to have cost the city between $1,200 and $1,500. Council member Harlan Beek voted to put the issue to a referendum again but told the St. Cloud Times that the issue should now be given a rest because of the election costs.

In that council vote, Mayor Jeff Thompson cast a tie-breaking ballot after council members Beek and Jean Soine had voted for a referendum and Dave Peschong and Dennis Zimmerman had voted against.

Nehring expressed disappointment with Thompson's stance supporting on-sale liquor on Sundays. She disputes that Sunday is just another day and prefers to keep it holy.

To force another referendum, a petition would need to have signatures from 20 percent of the voters in the last general election. This means a 220-signature petition is needed to force another vote.

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