It was not totally unexpected given the power and reach of the well-funded Wisconsin Tavern League that their members would call and complain over the action this week by the Wausau City Council which passed an ordinance ordering bartenders to be sober when working. What I did not envision, however, was the limp-wristed reaction to Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple who caved faster than a house of cards in the afternoon wind.
Less than 24 hours after the ordinance was passed by a council vote of 8-2 vote the major had vetoed it.
In typical fashion the mayor weighed in with a political comment that lacked foundation. Tipple suggested there was not opportunity for enough community dialogue on the matter. In other words the debate went the wrong way, the council members who listened to the testimony and dealt with the facts and substance of the ordinance were wrong, and Tipple was going to save the day for the Tavern League.
Which is exactly what he did.
The posting of the meetings about this matter were all done in accordance with the law, and the same opportunity was made for all to be at the meetings and make their voices heard. Whose fault is it when the Public Health and Safety Committee voted unanimously to recommend the ordinance last month and not one single tavern worker was present. Perhaps folks need to pull themselves off the bar stool and engage with the rest of society. The process was open and fair and the only thing Mayor Tipple and the Tavern League can complain about is the end result.
It should be noted that Police Chief Jeff Hardel told the council this week that when officers respond to taverns where there are fights and other such behavior the bartender is intoxicated about half of the time. For any elected official in Wausau to pretend they have never heard of such problems, as Tipple claims, is ridiculous. Maybe there needs to be more one-on-one conversations between law enforcement and the mayor’s office so to allow for a better understanding of what the police deal with in the real world.
The end of this story is the same that plays out over and over when it comes to the powerful forces of the Tavern League that makes sure no serious legislation ever emerges and survives, which is exactly what happened with this ordinance over the no higher than 0.04 percent blood-alcohol content level required for servers. The Tavern League has always been front and center in stopping needed legislation.
We saw that play out in Wausau where a democratic process allowed for a 8-2 vote in favor of a sober server ordinance only then to be vetoed when some angry bar owners and employees made contact with the city. If that is all it takes to shake the stride of a politician the voters must seriously ask exactly what their mayor is made of, since it clearly is not one of spine.
Meanwhile the average citizen who wants safer roads with fewer drunk drivers do not have a powerful set of lobbyists and are left to hope that elected officials might do the right thing when it comes to alcohol related policy matters. In Wausau it seems pretty clear which elected ones work for the people, and those who do not.