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OLSON: Paper mislabels change as progress

Mel Olson

I was troubled by the analysis presented in the June 11 Daily Republic editorial, "Mitchell is no longer the City of No." There can be no progress without change, that's true, but the reverse is not true. It's possible to have plenty of change without it necessarily being progress. The recent vote on the wine ordinance is a case in point.

We have several outdoor drinking opportunities in Mitchell now. They exist on private property, with some being adjacent to the public sidewalk. Molly Goldsmith, of Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, blithely suggested on KELO television that another four or so people drinking only wine, no beer or spirits, outdoors will entice tourists further down Main Street and perhaps to stay another night in Mitchell. Why those tourists would walk by The Scoreboard's beautiful outdoor pavilion, which is not on the sidewalk, to proceed many more blocks to another establishment that can't be seen clearly from the Corn Palace area is something of a mystery. Why outdoor consumption of wine might lead to an overnight stay is another mystery, unless proponents are counting on drinking to excess as a retention tool for tourism.

I am not against outdoor drinking per se. I am against anything on the sidewalk. That would include clothing racks or other product displays. Everyone agrees a picnic table in the road interferes with the primary purpose of a road. I suggest the same is true of a sidewalk. In addition, I think it is hypocritical to include only wine service, only for establishments with 50 percent or more of their business coming from food, and only for businesses in downtown. If you drank wine on the sidewalk in front of your home or in front of any other downtown establishment that didn't get 50 percent of its income from food, you would be subject to a police citation because of the public nature of the sidewalk.

The Daily Republic editorial gives no credence to those who worry about the lessons that children draw from what they see, or to those whose first-hand experience with alcohol abuse drives them to try and save others from what they've gone through. The other ballot issues, mainly financial, likewise have no acknowledgment from The Daily Republic that perhaps price tags were too high or locations were inappropriate.

The editorial made it sound like voters in Mitchell have no intelligence or analysis when they go to the polls because they voted "no." My experience has been that voters put thought into their ballots, and the voters are always right. This time they've said they want to drink wine on the public sidewalks, and it's my job as a councilman to make that work.

My proposal is to approve the applications for those businesses that qualify but then to widen the sidewalk in front of those businesses. It may take a parking space or two but it will make using the sidewalks safer for those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers as well as making it more comfortable for those enjoying the outdoor experience. It will be up to the people of Mitchell to decide if that is "progress," or simply just another change in our city.