Friday, January 27, 2017

Record Ducks and Covers Up, Rather Than Investigating City of St. Augustine Beach Alcohol Sales

Page one article raises more questions than it answers, while deferring to City of St. Augustine Beach hierarchs:

1. No policy discussion -- ever -- by City before deciding to sell alcohol at New Year's Eve event -- no consideration ever given to sponsoring an alcohol-free "First Night" event -- City wants to make money, and is insouciant to policy questions.
2. City ineptly carried inadequate insurance, which in haec verba excludes from coverage  performers, spectators, fireworks, mechanical bulls, bounce houses and rock climbing walls.
3. No mention or interview of citizen Thomas F. Reynolds, Jr., et al., who opposed a putative "family-friendly" event selling alcohol.   This reflects bias.
4. No mention of the City of St. Augustine Beach Police Department's refusal and failure to perform background checks on volunteers, contrary to county policy.
5. No research on DUIs or other alcohol related crimes associated with Beach Blast Off.
6. Conclusion: this is PR "spin," not good journalism -- more "duck and coverup" from the St. Augustine Record.

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM Crowds drink and dance as they ring in 2017 during the annual New Year’s Eve Beach Blast Off at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier Park on Saturday, December 31, 2016.

Posted January 27, 2017 05:37 am
Beach Blast Off alcohol sales by city of St. Augustine Beach totaled more than $21K at most recent event

A New Year’s Eve event in St. Augustine Beach attracts large crowds, and has also brought thousands of dollars to city coffers from alcohol sales.

Selling alcohol at Beach Blast Off comes with risk for the city, but officials say they haven’t had any issues related to the practice.

The event, held for about a decade near the county pier, features live music, fireworks and food — as well as beer and wine sold by the city, via volunteers. The city of St. Augustine Beach gets a temporary license from the state to sell alcohol at the event, which cost $25 to get for the most recent Beach Blast Off.

The city sold $21,006 worth of alcohol at the most recent event, according to Melissa Burns, chief financial officer for the city. Over the past five events, alcohol sales totaled $95,330.

The city didn’t keep a tally of drinks sold, according to Burns. The city sells other items at the event and collects vendors fees, sponsorships and grants, according to Burns.

With alcohol and other revenue and expenses considered, Beach Blast Off brought in $14,473 to the city from the most recent event. The past five events combined, including one that lost money, brought in $58,302.

Event proceeds pay for beer and wine, and the city’s beer vendor provided a $2,000 sponsorship, according to Burns.

Profits from the event are held in reserve until the city chooses a project to fund, according to Burns. Funds have gone toward the Splash Park near the pier. In 2014 and 2016, funds went to adding “shaded structures” around and in the park.

Few people have complained about the beach’s practice of selling alcohol at the event, officials said. City officials also couldn’t recall any arrests or issues at Beach Blast Off. It is the only event where the city sells alcohol, officials said.

St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien said a couple of people complained about the practice both to the city and St. Johns County — which controls the pier and surrounding property where the event is held. O’Brien said he has no issue with the beach selling alcohol at the event.

“Given the fact that there have been no problems and given that the people that serve the beer are trained in what to do, at this time, I have no concern about it at all,” he said.

While selling beer and wine brings in cash, it also poses a risk for the city.

Any person who sells alcohol runs the risk of liability or negligence if they don’t follow the rules, and the reason municipalities don’t participate in it frequently is that they “don’t want to take on that additional risk,” said Richard Blau, partner at the GrayRobinson law firm who also leads the firm’s alcohol industry team.

“I think with alcohol there’s always a risk,” Blau said.

Blau referred to a state law, which says that a person who sells alcohol can be liable for damage or injury related to intoxication if the alcohol was “willfully and unlawfully” sold to someone under 21 or to “a person habitually addicted” to alcohol.

Issues could also arise outside of that statute from serving someone who’s obviously drunk, Blau said.

The city provides training to volunteers who sell beer and wine to help prevent issues from arising.

St. Augustine Beach Police Department Cmdr. Jim Parker handled the training for the two most recent Beach Blast Off events, he said.

Part of that training covers how to spot fake identification and how to handle someone who is obviously impaired.

“I go through the state statutes,” Parker said.

Also, police monitor activities inside the event, he said. Parker said he could not recall any arrests being made at Beach Blast Off.

“Beach Blast Off is typically families watching fireworks, and it’s such a family event that we have no problems,” he said.

In addition to providing training, the city had an insurance policy for the most recent event with Scottsdale Insurance Company that includes liquor liability coverage of up to $2 million total.

While every policy is different, most liquor liability policies won’t cover incidents where alcohol is sold illegally, said Lynne McChristian, Florida spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. The coverage generally applies to fights or incidents that happen as a result of the alcohol.

As for governments selling alcohol, Blau said other municipalities have occasionally sold alcohol at fundraisers. Beer sales are also common at fairs, and some fairs are run by authorities that are typically “municipal entities,” he said.

Some communities feel their governments should have no business dealing with alcohol, while others may be fine with alcohol being sold in a controlled way at family events, he said.

The city of St. Augustine and St. Johns County don’t directly sell alcohol at events, though alcohol sales are allowed at some venues, officials said.

Jim Wilson, city attorney for St. Augustine Beach, said it’s “very common” for cities and counties to be involved in something like Beach Blast Off, adding that cities and counties frequently allow government-controlled facilities to sell alcohol.

He said he doesn’t believe the liability is greater for the city to directly sell the alcohol. If a contractor handled the sales, the city would likely lose some degree of control, he said.

“The liability issues are basically [the] same as anybody else … We’re insured for things like that. It’s a matter of maintaining control of things,” Wilson said.

He said the city is concerned about making sure events happen without incident.

“It’s a family-friendly event,” Wilson said.

1 comment:

Tom Reynolds said...

This is an outrage that every citizen with a spec of common sense should be very concerned about.

1) The amount of money is a gross sales amount.
2) Theft did happen and was probably done at the top, that is exactly why there is no drink count.
3) The City carried an insurance that did not include coverage on several things that took place.
4) How much did the employee payroll come too ? Why is there no figure ?
5) Commander Porker doesn't even know what the First Amendment is, how could he be training anyone ?