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Adults who host parties with minors could be liable

Hubbard County is looking into a new ordinance that would make the adult hosts of a party that supplied underage kids alcohol criminally liable.

The social host ordinance would foist criminal liability on adults who host minors at functions in which alcohol is knowingly being served.

"It's just an additional tool we could use when we get these calls," said Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne.

What the proposed ordinance would not do is make parents criminally liable when they serve their own children alcohol. Dearstyne said it's their legal prerogative to do so.

What they can't do is serve the neighbors' kids or any others that show up.

Liability "would flow to the legal age hosts present with knowledge that minors are consuming alcohol," Dearstyne explained to the board.

Many other counties are enacting such ordinances.

The law would also not punish the parents who went away for the weekend, leaving their kids at home with the booze cabinet stocked.

But if the household had a legal aged resident present when or if a party broke out, that adult could be prosecuted.

Dearstyne told board members when youth parties are busted, it can be very difficult to get the teens to say who furnished the alcohol.

Under a social host ordinance, it would be any legal resident of the household present at the time officers raided the party.

"It gives us a tool and sends the message we're not going to put up with underage drinking," Dearstyne said.

County board chair Lyle Robinson said putting such an ordinance through a public hearing process would "give us an inkling of how the public feels" about the issue.

"It needs to be constitutional," he warned.

Commissioner Cal Johannsen, a former deputy, approved Dearstyne researching a social host ordinance.

"It will give them (officers) a tool to put a stop to it," he said.

Social hosts can be sued in a civil action if underage and legal age persons are injured or killed after over imbibing at that host's home. But currently there aren't criminal remedies to charge the host unless it can be proved that person furnished the alcohol to a minor.

Hubbard County chemical health coordinator Sara Bowles said the Youth Drug & Alcohol Task Force has been working on a draft ordinance. Now, with the board's approval, the task force will review the draft yet again, make necessary changes and submit it to the board to get the process started.

Scott Olson, manager of the Park Rapids Municipal Liquor Store, said he applauds any efforts to curb underage drinking.

"Once it leaves here we have no control over it," he said of his inventory.

In other action, the board:

n Scheduled mandatory staff sexual harassment training for all employees Aug. 6 with a taped session available to employees who could not attend one of two sessions that day.

n Reported the refund of $232,087 from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, the county's workers compensation and property and casualty insurer.

Auditor Pam Heeren said the refunds are issued when counties keep their claims lower. The county annually pays $500,000 in premiums, she told the board.

Discussed refining the shoreland ordinances to provide a detailed definition of what a "retail shop" is.

"Retail shops shouldn't be allowed on the waterfront," commissioner Don Carlson said.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said he's looking for guidance as to where business should be conducted on the premises, not whether the premises should be there at all.

"Exterior sales of vehicles, etc., would generate noise, lighting and aesthetic issues that typically would not be in harmony with the surrounding residential use," he wrote in asking the board to help him refine what a retail shop is.

But some commissioners said it makes sense that a retail business would use the yard or surrounding grounds to display inventory, rather than confine all sales and display to the interior of the building.

Robinson pointed out that the first 1,000 feet of lakeshore is "predominantly residential."

Buitenwerf said the word "shop denotes a small structure and does not typically define a big box store like Walmart or Menards which would not fit well into a shoreline area."

The board determined that a "retail shop" should be interpreted as retail sales in the interior or exterior of a given property.

n Approved a limited participation plan for Hubbard County to implement both the ARMER and VHF radio systems in the county. The county has chosen to go with a VHF system; ambulance and fire services have chosen to so with the state ARMER system.

That will entail a patch system so Hubbard County can communicate with all emergency responders.

n Debated again whether the county should advertise for a land commissioner or combine the job with the solid waste superintendent's duties.

"We should at least try to combine them" to save money, Carlson said.

Board chair Lyle Robinson said the county should look into the future upon the retirement of solid waste superintendent Vern Massie.

"We need to try to find a person with management skills," he said. "To say we need a separate department manager for every five or six people isn't a very efficient way to run government."

The board will study the job descriptions of both positions before deciding how to fill the land commissioner job. Bob Hoffman will retire in October after 34 years of service.

Sarah Smith

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

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