Beer won’t be flowing from the tap at the Havelock Chili Festival this October.
The Havelock Board of Commissioners on Monday voted down a plan by the Havelock Chamber of Commerce to serve suds at the group’s annual charity fundraiser held at Walter B. Jones Park.
The beer service would have required an amendment to city regulations to allow a one-time offering of the alcoholic beverage. Instead, commissioners voted 3-2 against the measure.
Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce, said in a presentation to the board that, if approved, beer would be dispensed at a single site, with controlled access for adults only. Duncan said individuals would be able to purchase tickets for up to three beers. The chamber planned to partner with dispenser R.A. Jeffrey’s to serve beer from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday during the Oct. 17 and 18 event.
Duncan said the festival had raised $41,000 over the last six years, and the festival committee had agreed that serving beer would be a way to grow the festival, which has run for more than 32 years.
The vote came when Commissioner Brenda Wilson made a motion to serve beer on Friday only. Wilson’s motion was seconded by Commissioner George Liner. Wilson and Liner voted in favor, while commissioners Karen Lewis, Jim Stuart and Danny Walsh voted against.
“They can move it to another area that’s private property and they can continue on having the beer, but I can’t see it in the city park, because once we break that thing, everybody’s going to want to do the same thing and we can’t control it.” Walsh said.
“I think we do have control,” he said. “It’s not a city park. It’s the Walter B. Jones Park in a particular area that they are looking for. Keep in mind it’s not illegal to drink alcohol. We, as a government entity should not be dictating the morality of what our public or our citizens should be doing. They’re grownups. They are men and women who have a choice. Right, wrong or indifferent, they have the choice. We are offering them a choice out there.
“The city has no liability. We have more liability in the Tourist and Event Center where we have our own license where we authorize anyone over the age of 21 in that facility wine, beer and hard liquor is sold. It’s not controlled. The bartenders are run by the city and you’re sitting here telling an organization that has an economic development engine for this community that we’re not going to let them grow, let them move someplace else, over beer.”
Liner pointed out that beer is served during the Cherry Point Air Show.
“The air show walks around with their beer from one end of that flight line to the other end of that flight line without any major issues,” he said. “We’ve got the theater aboard the base that sells beer and wine to their Marines, that allows them to be grown up enough to be able to handle it and make the right choices. You’ve got the Seafood Festival. You’ve got the Mullet Festival. You’ve got the blue marlin tournament, the Marlins baseball games. All sell liquor.”
Walsh said that he had done “some of the stupidest things you’ve ever seen” while drinking as a young Marine during the 1960s. He said most of the residents he had heard from on the issue did not want beer served at the festival and many said they would not attend if beer was served.
“I serve on the chamber’s board of directors and it’s hard for me to say no to them. It is my conviction that it should not be in the city park,” Walsh said. “If they want to have it in the shopping center where they used to have it or some other privately owned position that I don’t have to go along, then it’s up to the chamber of commerce to do that. It’s not up to me as a commissioner to vote to do something that I don’t really want to have in the first place. And the people that I know said ‘Danny, we don’t want it.’
“It might be morality. It might be common sense. It might be history. It might be family. People that know me know what my history is on beer and things like that. I have no desire for beer. I could go the rest of my life without ever touching a beer, and I have worked at the Chili Festival from 6 in the morning to 9 at night every year to help them do what they’ve got to do, but I don’t think beer’s that important. If it is, move it to a private institution and move it onto some private land. That’s all I’m saying.”
Lewis, citing the success of the festival, said she saw no reason to for the addition of beer.
“I’ve struggled with this long and hard,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s a good mix. It’s been going along fine for 30 years. Why change that? When you say you’re going to bring in a different clientele of people, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. I’m not saying that the chamber has not done a fantastic job of researching this and putting it together and it’s a good plan. Maybe nothing would ever happen, but I couldn’t live with it if just one person died from it. It wouldn’t break my heart if every bar in this town closed tomorrow. I’d vote for that.”
Wilson said colleagues in New Bern earlier in the day had expressed surprise that Havelock still had a park ban on alcohol. She said a different clientele often attends the event Friday night compared to Saturday, and she encouraged a one-year trial run for Friday sales only.
“Let’s go Friday night and see how that goes this year and then look at it again next year,” she said. “I just have a difficulty with Saturday where all the children from soccer games and baseball games and football games and cheerleaders and all the other kids are there.”
Before the options were discussed, 14 people spoke about the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting, with 10 voicing opposition to beer at the festival and four voicing support.
“I have complete confidence that any contingency that might arise has been foreseen and planned for,” said Havelock resident Kathleen Cook, a supporter of the beer garden proposal. “I wish to gently remind the commissioners that they were elected to represent all of the people of this city. A two-thirds majority of all those who participated in an online survey about the garden were in support of it. That is a significant number and an indicative number that must be afforded due consideration of its support for the chili festival’s beer garden. I believe that any voices of dissent that might have been were fueled by misrepresentation and misinformation.”
Anthony Pasive opposed the idea.
“All it takes is one incident and you could potentially tarnish the event or the future of the event,” he told commissioners. “When I have come to the chili festival, I have always seen it as a family friendly event. All you have to do is look at our sporting events as examples. What kind of behavior do we see when we go to these games? All the times I have started drinking, I didn’t intend to get drunk. It just happened, because you just can’t really stop with one beer. It just snowballs, from one, then two, then three and pretty soon you have a fight breaking out. Again, that’s going to tarnish the reputation of this event. Any time you have a group of people mixed with alcohol, something is bound to happen.”
In other business during Monday night’s meeting, the board heard from city manager Frank Bottorff that the number of candidates for the job of police chief had been whittled down to two. Both candidates were undergoing background checks. The final candidate will replace Police Chief G. Wayne Cyrus, who is retiring.