Matt Barnes, June 1 2020 Wausau Area Access Media screengrab

Damakant Jayshi

Wausau is considering new alcohol restrictions in city parks, acting on a recommendation by the Wausau Police Department.

Two city committees on Monday gave their nod to the measure, which would go into effect on Jan. 1. Initially, the proposal would have encompassed parks solely in the downtown Wausau area but committee members chose to make the rules uniform.

Deputy Police Chief Matt Barnes on Monday said unlawful acts by heavily intoxicated people including sexual assaults have been reported in parks, which can keep other residents away from the areas. The Parks and Recreation Committee and Public Health and Safety Committee each reviewed the proposal on Monday during a joint session.

The approved measure mirrors the existing restriction of open intoxicants at The 400 Block in the city’s downtown before 4 p.m. and after 11 p.m., except during permitted special events. The measure now heads to the Wausau City Council. Given the breakup of the vote in the joint session, with four of the five parks committee members approving it and all three from PHS Committee who were present giving it a nod, it is likely to see an easy passage at the common council next month. Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee Dawn Herbst voted no.

The ban does not cover Marathon Park, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Marathon County.

Alder Tom Kilian objected to the initial restrictions being imposed on select parks. Riverside Park falls within the area he represents, Dist. 3. He said the initial proposal created two different sets of rules and regulations for residents and tells one group of a certain area that they could not enjoy the same freedom to drink while others could do so.

Even if the proposal’s intention was to limit unlawful acts under heavy intoxication and not intended to create two classes of residents, that is precisely what the measure would do, he said. Parks frequented by people with a higher income level would have been exempt from the proposal while people of color and with lower income would be more heavily impacted, creating a discriminatory environment that could have faced legal challenges.

Alder Lisa Rasmussen agreed with Kilian on the “optics” of the proposal, saying if they considered the demographics of the people who will be impacted by the restrictions, it would send a wrong message. Moreover, it could be confusing to residents, given they could drink in one park at certain time but not at other parks at the exact same time.

As background, Rasmussen said city officials had been discussing the problem of open intoxicants in some areas and whether to apply the ban to those areas or to extend it to all the city-owned areas.

Alder Dawn Herbst said she was opposed to the measure but was willing to test its effectiveness.

Barnes said his department has been receiving complaints for several years now about the unruly acts and behavior of intoxicated people in some park areas. He said if the measure does not produce the expected result, he will come back to the committees asking for review.