Friday, May 25, 2007

Government in Middletown: Opening taxpayers up to liability?


An interesting case is happening in Middletown. The Middletown Committee is seeking to serve alcohol at the Banfield Cultural Arts Center, adjacent the railroad tracks, during a fundraiser.

Here are my concerns.

No. 1: Is it the role of government to compete with private business? A cultural arts center (a business government is not intended to be in by any standard) is looking to serve liquor (like a bar) to patrons to attract their business. Neither the entertainment or bar businesses are supposed to be supported by tax dollars. It's not American.

No. 2: What happens if an event patron drives away from Banfield drunk? God forbid property is harmed or, far more grave, someone is injured by a patron who had too much to drink at this town event. No government of this country should put itself in a position of vulnerability because of alcohol.

No. 3: Who is financially liable if someone from a municipal event involving liquor drives away from such an event in a way that makes them unfit to drive? If it is a municipal event, then how can it be argued that the town had nothing to do with it? If there is liability then how does the town escape it? More importantly, why should the town escape liability if harm occurred due to a town event, which included drinking?

No. 4: Is including drinking at town events a good idea when, at the same period of time, Middletown's assemblyperson, Amy Handlin, is lobbying for the PNC Bank Arts Center, in Holmdel, to have their liquor license lifted? Regardless of the detached nature of the surrounding events at PNC Bank Arts Center, in Holmdel, and the Banfield Cultural Arts Center, in Middletown, the equation comes down to this: Government is seeking to lift the liquor license of a private concern for safety reasons as a result of excess and harm to a recent center patron; Government is trying to grant a liquor license to itself at a smaller, government-owned venue to make money on a fundraiser (that is in competition with private concerns in the area, e.g. the Basie, Two River Theatre, etc.).

So, government is making the assumption it should have a liquor license, based on its need, while government is seeking to remove a liquor license from private industry because of safety reasons. I agree with Mrs. Handlin, that the level of potential harm in liquor could make lifting the arts center's liquor license necessary. Of course, this could also cause great economic harm to the center. Nevertheless, safety first. With that said, what is the defense for allowing liquor served on government property, especially when it is in competition with private concerns? People are not even allowed to smoke indoors on government property...but they are allowed to drink?

In America, capitalism was the way this nation decided to go a long time ago. It is not a capitalist notion for government to compete with private industry. Similarly, it is not prudent to open the taxpayer up to liability by serving liquor on government property, understanding the risk the town opens the taxpayers up to as a consequence of that decision.

Any government that opens the taxpayers up to irresponsible risk is heading in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Governments that are moving in the wrong direction need new leaders to put them in the right direction (or at least a direction that does not move toward risk and away from core principles of this republic).

If the risk at the PNC Bank Arts Center is too great to serve liquor in the future, and I agree it may be, then the risk of a town potentially losing millions to raise thousands is similarly too high. The bottom line is this: It is OK for the area to lose many millions at the PNC Bank Arts Center, because people come first. Just the same: Government should not give different rules to itself than it does to the private sector.

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