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Alcohol group meets — in private

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | DECEMBER 15, 2009 7:30 AM

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The Partnership for Alcohol Safety met Monday in a closed session, though it wasn’t immediately clear why.

The group — a collaborative initiative between the city and university — was created in an attempt to combat Iowa City’s binge-drinking issues.

The committee doesn’t fall under the state’s open-meetings law as outlined in the Iowa Code. It makes no binding decisions, nor was it created by a state order, both of which would require the group to open its meetings to the public and media.

What wasn’t clear Monday evening was why officials chose meet in closed session or who made that decision. Several members said they didn’t know the meeting was closed and didn’t recall the group discussing the issue at previous sessions.

The committee welcomed the public at its summit in March, its first meeting.

Committee members cited both advantages and disadvantages of closed meetings.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said, in her experience, closed meetings can be more productive.
Jeff Shipley, the UI Student Government liaison to the Iowa City City Council, speculated that closed meetings allowed people to be more open and honest.

But he didn’t see any explicit benefit in excluding people, he said, particularly on an issue that concerns students as much as drinking issues do.

Peter Nathan, a UI professor emeritus of community and behavioral health who serves on the committee, said the group is dealing with difficult issues that affect the whole community.

“I think it’s better when there is the maximum amount of community participation,” he said. “I’m surprised to hear it was closed.”

Other officials could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

The Partnership for Alcohol Safety, which meets quarterly, is made up of a Steering Committee and six subcommittees. It consists of UI and Iowa City officials, as well as local business owners.

At their first meeting in March, officials identified key priorities and brainstormed suggestions on how to curb binge drinking. Ideas included building a movie theater or a bowling alley downtown, adding a committee of students to plan more nonalcoholic events, and altering junior-high curricula to educate students about alcohol abuse earlier.

Since then, the City Council has passed a number of ordinances in an attempt to alter Iowa City’s drinking culture, such as more stringent regulations on bars applying to renew their liquor-licenses and limits on where new bars can open. Since July, councilors have denied the renewal of three bars’ liquor licenses.

Committee members said they will release details of discussions during Monday’s meeting at a later, unspecified date.

Officials said they weren’t sure Monday whether the group’s next meeting, in three months, will also be closed to the public.


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