The party’s over for Chesterfield hosts
By: Carol Enright
The Chesterfield City Council passed by a vote of 6-1 on July 16 an ordinance that would make it easier for law enforcement and the city prosecutor to punish adults who host parties where underage drinking or drug use is present.
City officials said the ordinance simply pulls together pieces of existing ordinances that the city has been using to prosecute and fine individuals for allowing unruly gatherings at their homes. However, the new ordinance clearly states that adults who allow underage drinking in their homes – whether they are aware of the activity or not – could now face more than the standard municipal fine. They could be held responsible for the costs of sending responders, such as police and paramedics, to the scene.
Prior to the vote, Chesterfield resident Karl Daubel spoke in opposition.
“I think that it’s (a) bad law for my friends, my neighbors and the citizens of Chesterfield,” said Daubel.
While Daubel called efforts to crack down on alcohol and drug use among minors “a rather good idea,” he said the ordinance has “taints of copycat law.”
“Because others are doing it, we’re going to have zero tolerance,” Daubel said.
The Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition approached Chesterfield and eight other municipalities in the Rockwood School District last fall to encourage them to toughen up their existing parental responsibility ordinances. Because the coalition receives federal grant money, Daubel contended that ordinance, and others like it, “raises the federal budget.”
Daubel also disagreed with the ordinance holding adults responsible for parties at their homes, even if they are not present.
“This law says if it happens while we’re away, the property owner gets stuck anyway,” Daubel said.
Nancy Bengtson, a Clarkson Valley resident and member of the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition, spoke in favor of the ordinance. Clarkson Valley and Wildwood have already adopted ordinances similar to the one Chesterfield passed.
“Those of us that are raising teenagers know that it is difficult,” said Bengtson. “But if we have somebody to support us and we have some backing from law enforcement, it helps us be able to be good parents by saying, ‘We know it’s illegal. You can’t go to those parties, because … the parents could get in trouble.’”
Bengtson said she knows Chesterfield residents who were fined for hosting parties where minors were drinking, but didn’t take it seriously because the fines weren’t that steep.
“I think if we address it as we have in Clarkson Valley and as Wildwood has, where the fees for the first responders are billed to the parents, perhaps they might pay a little more attention than they do to fines that are being levied now,” Bengtson said.
Renee Heney, director of the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition, thanked the Council for being proactive in its efforts to prevent underage drinking.
“It is a problem, not just in Chesterfield, but throughout the country,” Heney said. “So until the problem goes away, being proactive seems to make a lot of sense.”
Earl Barge, a Chesterfield resident who is a member of the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition and the Chesterfield Alliance for Positive Youth, also spoke in the favor the ordinance. Barge said he spent 25 years working in corrections, probation and parole before retiring.
“I saw what underage drinking or alcohol abuse does to kids, does to the families,” Barge said. “I’m for anything that helps reduce underage drinking.”