Partnership for Alcohol Safety mum on 21-ordinance


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The community committee charged with reducing the amount of dangerous drinking voted unanimously Wednesday to sit out of Iowa City’s controversial 21-ordinance in a closed meeting.

Members of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, who range from University of Iowa public-health experts to local bar owners, have expressed passionate views and have vested interests on both sides of the issue.

UI Provost and panel co-head Wallace Loh, who supports the ordinance, said the group wanted to focus on other ways to change the drinking culture downtown.

“I did not want to see this group break up over the issue of 21,” said Loh, calling it the “800-pound gorilla” in the room that needed to be addressed. “I think a lot of people believe that whatever happens to this issue — this committee must continue.”

He said he thinks the ordinance can reduce the binge-drinking problem, but that it will “take many, many things to make a dent” over a long period of time. The committee will investigate those other options, he said.

The Wednesday discussion marked the fourth time the group met without polling committee members to see who supports keeping their talks private.

The Daily Iowan was turned away from the panel’s 4 p.m. steering committee meeting by co-head Victoria Sharp. When asked if the members could vote on the issue, she said she would bring it up later with the group.

Loh said Wednesday evening he hadn’t thought about opening the meeting. However, he expressed willingness to discuss it.

“I am prepared to put it on the table,” he said.

Committee members told the DI in December that they didn’t know the meeting was closed and didn’t recall ever discussing it.

Before Wednesday’s steering meeting, in fact, one subcommittee chairman allowed the DI to attend his meeting, saying he was under the impression all discussions were open.

Several members have indicated in previous interviews that they would support opening meetings to the public, though they understood some might feel more comfortable in a closed setting.

“I’m big on open government,” said Stephan Arndt, director for the Iowa Consortium For Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation. “It should be open.”

Andrew Nugent, the interim chairman of emergency medicine at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, and students Simon Holoubek and Jeff Shipley agreed.

Though the committee is composed of many public employees that meet in public buildings, it 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.

So far, the committee has not made any formal announcements of progress.

In September 2009, before a scheduled announcement that was later canceled, UI spokesman Tom Moore told the DI, “We know there is intense interest, and we wanted to provide and update as to where we are now.”

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