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Jackson County ordinances spark debate

Jackson County Courthouse, located next to the Jackson County Resource Center.

JACKSON -- A series of proposed county ordinances sparked controversy at a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, with the tobacco and curfew ordinances passing unanimously, the social host ordinance at a 3-2 vote and a park ordinance being sent back to the county parks board for re-examination.

The park ordinance drew the most comment, over the closing times of county parks, how golf carts would be regulated under the revised ordinance and even whether children could be prosecuted for picking flowers in the park.

"We're trying to regulate people coming in and out of parks and just driving around. That's when the boats go missing, that's when the coolers go missing," said Roger Hawkinson, Jackson County Sheriff, regarding the purpose of the ordinance. "We're not trying to prohibit good basic family fun. We want to make (parks) enjoyable."

The revised park ordinance would close county parks to the public between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., which drew criticism from local fishermen, some of whom fish in county parks at midnight on the season opener and fish very early in the morning throughout the season.

Another issue with the revised rules was that it allowed licensed and registered snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles to operate on park roads and boat launches -- but only during the winter months, not during any other season.

Other criticism of the ordinance was based on its existing provisions, were were put in place in 1996.

The rule against removing plants from the park could not actually spur the arrest of a child, because Minnesota statutes protect children. But the same section of the ordinance did explicitly make it unlawful to "frighten" any wildlife in the park.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to send the ordinance back to the Parks and Zoning Committee for further revision and re-examination.

Social host ordinance

Another hotly-contested ordinance was the social host ordinance, meant to help law enforcement officials charge adults who give minors alcohol or who deliberately allow them to consume alcohol.

"It is unlawful for any person(s) to host or allow an event or gathering at any residence, premises, or any other private or public property where alcohol or alcoholic beverages are present when the person knows or reasonably should know that an underage person will or does consume or possess any alcohol or alcoholic beverage with the intent to consume it; and the person fails to take reasonable steps to prevent possession or consumption by the underage person(s)," the ordinance states.

Exceptions are made for underaged people and their parents in the parents' home, religious observances, underaged people who lawfully possess alcohol as part of their jobs and beer gardens. Retail establishments, because they are regulated separately, are also exempted.

"I don't agree with it. I think we're going a little too far," said Commissioner David Henkels. "If I invite my brother down from the city, and he allows (his underaged child) to drink, in my house, I'm going to be liable for that (under this ordinance)."

The social host ordinance passed 3-2 when commissioners voted, with Henkels and Bill Tusa dissenting.

Curfew ordinance

For the first time, Jackson County has its own curfew, based closely on the curfew the city of Jackson already has.

Under the new curfew rules, passed 5-0, minors younger than 16 will not be permitted in public places, entertainment places or vacant lots between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. Minors age 16 to 18 will not be allowed out between midnight and 5 a.m.

Several parents had questions about the curfew, some regarding school events and athletics and others regarding students with parental permission to be out late.

"We're not targeting kids going from point A to point B," said Jackson Police Chief Tony Legnani about the city of Jackson's curfew ordinance. "(We're targeting those who) for no reason are hanging out in parks, being out at 1 or 2 in the morning, and being up to no good, usually vandalizing or (having) stolen property."

The county's new ordinance does exempt minors accompanied by their parents or guardians, minors on emergency errands at the direction of parents, minors traveling to or from work or school events, minors passing through the city while traveling between states, minors attending any event involving the exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly or religion, minors on the sidewalk abutting their own or neighbors' residences, or minors who are legally emancipated.

Tobacco ordinance

County commissioners also passed a tobacco ordinance 5-0.

"This is all good, I guess, but it's kind of a fine line," said Mike Handzus of rural Lakefield. "You've got to be careful of government micromanaging people's lives. There's drugs out there that are worse than cigarettes."

The ordinance sets regulations for compliance checks, prohibits unlicensed tobacco sale, tobacco sale to minors, possession or purchase of tobacco by a minor, and also sets criminal and civil penalties for violating the ordinance.

"Tobacco is the No. 1 killer in the United States," said Pat Stewart, said Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health Services administrator. "So what can we do to educate and try to create healthy environments so children ... make the correct decision?"

Commissioners removed part of the proposed ordinance that would have required retail establishments selling tobacco to post a health message poster about tobacco.

Commissioner Bill Tusa wanted to remove the civil penalty section from the ordinance, but was told that civil penalties were required by state statute.

He also wanted to amend the proposed ordinance to disallow members of the public from being fined for selling tobacco to minors, but his amendment failed.

The ordinance was approved unanimously after the health message poster portion was removed.

The Resource Center

The county board also approved bids for elements of remodeling the 1962 portion of the Jackson County Resource Center, which will be used to house county offices while the 1938 building is demolished and a new structure is put up in its place.

The bids were for:

* Construction and remodeling costs, from Welp Construction, Jackson, for approximately $41,800;

* Doors and hardware, from Kendall Doors & Hardware, Mankato, for a maximum of $13,908;

* Electrical work, from M&H Electric, Jackson, for $25,550;

* Cubicles, from Alternative Business Furniture of Eden Prairie, for $54,807.85;

* Two workstations, from Davis Typewriter, Worthington, for $7,003; and

* Parking plan and work, to be done by the Jackson County Highway Department, for $32,822.50.