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Rodeo organizers seeking hard liquor license for annual event

The Henrietta Township Board will consult its legal counsel and possibly schedule a special meeting later this month after it came under fire for a January resolution banning the sale of hard liquor at special events.

Randy and Denese Jokela appeared before the board Thursday night with numerous supporters asking the township to rescind the decision, saying the sale of stronger alcoholic beverages was necessary to the success of the "family friendly" rodeo event that will be held July 1-3.

The resolution "drastically changed" the status of the PBR bull ride event, Denese Jokela told the board.

Township officers said the policy applied to all event planners, not just the rodeo.

But Denese Jokela said because the rodeo attracted nearly 30,000 people last year it was hard not to feel like the township was picking on them because it is the premier event.

Jokelas pointed out the rodeo had only minor infractions last year even though the venue featured hard liquor and that the planners annually meet with law enforcement and security groups to bolster the event's safety and review security plans.

Township board chair Lowell Warne said the township did have some liability concerns with underage drinking and fights if hard liquor is available.

Township officers pointed out the rodeo has operated successfully for many years with a 3.2 beer license.

Denese Jokela said it's not enough any more. Each element, including liquor sales, contributes to the overall success of the venture, she implored the board on her knees.

Randy Jokela said the township might incur more liability if the event only features 3,2 beer because attendees will be tempted to smuggle bottles of liquor in.

"Pop sales will be great," Randy Jokela said,

"Everyone will be mixing their own drinks," Denese Jokela said. The event's primary beer distributor also does not sell 3.2 beer, she said.

Township officers said they passed the resolution because they thought it was best for the township's residents. They also said both the rodeo and nearby cafes survived many years without strong beer or alcohol sales.

But Jokelas said liquor sales generate additional revenue that goes to school groups that help, and ultimately back into the community.

The wrestling boosters club, which made $8,000 off the event last year, and school board members were there in opposition to the liquor ban, which became an eventual argument of economic development. Downtown businesses sent representatives to the meeting as well, saying every bit of revenue is necessary in a tough economic climate to ensure the continued success of large-scale events such as the rodeo.

"We need more events like Eelpout" to bring people to the region, downtown business owner Cynthia Jones said of the annual Walker winter festival that attracts 10,000 people.

School board member Gary Gauldin said it appeared from the outside "you're building a black curtain around Henrietta Township" and urged the board to form a task force to formulate a liquor policy.

The wrestling booster club said it carries dram shop insurance and sells liquor responsibly, refusing sales to intoxicated persons as spelled out in Minnesota law.

Many attendees said they were unaware of the January meeting and weren't given notice of the inclination to change the township's temporary liquor sales policies.

Warne repeatedly told the supporters the township was not trying to doom the rodeo. He said the township has often discussed passing a 3.2 beer sales policy in the past, so the resolution should not have taken anyone by surprise.

"We're very much in favor of the activity," he said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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