Sherman updates alcohol ordinance

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Dancers participate in the Sherman Celtic Festival in 2019.

City to allow alcohol at some public events

A path has been cleared for Sherman events and festivals to serve alcohol in public parks this week when the city alcohol ordinance was updated.

Under the change, the city manager will be authorized to grant exceptions for events in public parks that wish to have alcohol sales and consumption. The ordinance change also allowed city staff to refine and tighten the ordinance to make it more enforceable.

"Currently today, you have an ordinance that says that, that says there shall be no alcohol possession or consumption in city parks," City Attorney Ryan Pittman. "The problem with today's ordinance is that it is overly broad. It says that you have authority to regulate authority and consumption elsewhere."

The change to the ordinance was prompted by organizers for the Sherman Celtic Festival, which is slated to see its return after cancelling 2020's event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to changing its date from March to September, organizers also wish to move to festival from the private land where it was traditionally held to Pecan Grove Park.

" Alcohol is traditionally served at any Celtic festival or Celtic event you go to," said Rob Ballew, who organizes the event each year.

However, the festival would not be able to sell or serve alcohol at the new venue under the city code, which barred consumption and service in public parks. The city manager could grant exceptions to the ordinance, but only in Kidd Key Park.

"This was something that the city would be a good move for both the event and the city itself, but alcohol sales would be a big part of the Celtic festival," Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said. "It is how they make their finances work."

Under the approved changed, the city manager will be able to give exceptional for events in all city parks.

In response to requests by festival organizers, city staff began to examine the ordinance to find ways to accommodate events that are granted approval by the city manager. This search led city attorney to determine that the ordinance was written too broadly and would be difficult to enforce if pursued.

As an example, city staff noted that the ordinance as written barred the consumption of alcohol during school sporting events and on other property that does not belong to the city. The ordinance did not tie the violation to a specific crime, which made it difficult to enforce.

Now, consumption of alcohol on park grounds constitutes trespassing under city code.

With the changes, City Council Member Pam Howeth asked if it would be possible to have signs posted in the parks stating that alcohol was not permitted. She voiced concerns that residents will start drinking freely in these public spaces.

Police Chief Zachary Flores said the spirit of the ordinance and enforcement is not changing at all with this update. The department will continue to enforce the ordinance as it has in the past.

The change only makes it easier for officers to do their job because it makes the ordinance and enforcement more defendable through the language of the code. As an example, Flores said that officers may stop someone who is caught drinking in the park and find other, more severe crimes in the process. Under the previous code, the language was so broad that it would be difficult to back up the original reason for the stop.

"As it exists today, the ordinance is open for the possibility of that," he said.

Ballew said organizers for this year's festival do not expect any issued with alcohol sales and consumption. The event will follow TABC regulations with service and oversight by Old Iron Post. The event, which is loosely affiliated with police, will also have strong security in place, organizers said.

"The fact that there will be alcohol is mitigated by the fact that there will be security present at all of these events," Strauch said. "They will be the kind of events where we get to pick and choose and make sure that they are well-run events."