COLUMBUS — Columbus City Councilwoman Beth Augustine-Schulte used the first reading of an ordinance that would allow hard liquor sales on Sunday mornings to voice her concerns with the community’s attitude toward alcohol consumption.
Augustine-Schulte stepped to the podium Monday night to deliver a seven-minute address that touched on underage consumption, alcohol-related health problems and a generally accepting attitude toward drinking that she believes is contributing to problems here.
The councilwoman didn’t take aim specifically at the proposed ordinance that would allow hard alcohol sales beginning at 6 a.m. on Sundays instead of noon.
“It’s not the time of day,” she said. “The time of day is irrelevant. My issue with this is the attitude of alcohol consumption that we are contributing to our community.”
Augustine-Schulte told her fellow council members that loosening restrictions on alcohol consumption sends a message to youths and anyone else that drinking is acceptable, and she believes that will lead to more problems down the road.
“I think in our community we have formed some very unhealthy perceptions about alcohol use, so much to the point that I think a lot of our citizens don’t even know clearly where the line is between alcohol use or misuse or abuse or even addiction,” she said.
The councilwoman, who teaches at St. Bonaventure Elementary School, argued that the Sunday morning hard liquor ban currently in place isn’t a moral issue, otherwise local religious leaders would be stepping up to support it.
She said it’s about combating the mental, emotional and physical health issues alcohol abuse creates and reducing the toll drinking can take on relationships, families and workplaces.
Augustine-Schulte, who called underage drinking a “regular occurrence” in Columbus with youths sneaking alcohol from their parents’ beer fridge or liquor cabinet, said all of these problems will worsen if elected officials continue to “let laws slide.”
“In good conscience, I can’t do that to this community,” she said.
A group of business representatives in favor of allowing Sunday morning hard alcohol sales attended Monday night’s meeting but did not speak. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at the Dec. 18 city council meeting.
Augustine-Schulte told this group she believes they’re being responsible with alcohol sales and acknowledged there are casual drinkers who may want a Bloody Mary or mixed drink on a Sunday morning.
But, she added, there are others who would use the law change to abuse alcohol.
“Whether we like it or not, we open the door for both people,” she said.
Nearly 20 people showed up at the Nov. 20 city council meeting to support the proposed ordinance. The mix of local bar, restaurant, liquor store and convenience store representatives argued the current ban is outdated, unfair to their customers, some of whom work overnight shifts and are looking for a drink on Sunday mornings, and complicated for employees.
Currently, beer and wine can be sold in Columbus from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. any day of the week. The same hours apply to hard liquor sales, except on Sundays, when purchases can’t be made until noon.
Nebraska began allowing hard liquor sales beginning at 6 a.m. on Sundays in 2012, but it’s up to individual communities and counties to set the rules for their jurisdictions. Columbus City Council members voted 5-3 against the proposal when it first came up in 2013.
The current proposal advanced to the ordinance stage on a 6-2 vote, with Augustine-Schulte and John Lohr opposing the measure.
In other business, the council:
• re-elected Charlie Bahr to serve as city council president.
• appointed Lohr, Augustine-Schulte, Rich Jablonski and Troy Hiemer to the Public Finance, Judiciary and Personnel Committee and Bahr, Dennis Kresha, Prent Roth and Ron Schilling to the Public Property, Safety and Works Committee.
• reappointed Lela Schaecher, Pam Perault and Tom Wunderlich to three-year terms on the Disabilities Compliance Committee.
• approved $92,421 in purchases for an aerator, truckster maintenance cart, fairway sweeper and greens roller for Quail Run Golf Course. An older greens roller will be used at Van Berg Golf Course.
• approved an $11,925 purchase to buy a microfilm scanner, PC, monitor and printer for Columbus Public Library.