From local control to out of control
April 20, 2015
by Ivan Raconteur

I spend a lot of my time in government meetings, and as a result, I hear some pretty absurd things.

One of the recent highlights (or lowlights) involved a simple request for a liquor license.

Mike and Katie Dickerman, owners of Woodland Hill Winery in Franklin Township are seeking a strong beer license that would allow them to sell four or five locally-brewed craft beers at their winery.

Katie explained during Tuesday’s Wright County Board meeting that some of their customers enjoy wine, while their spouses might prefer beer.

Therefore, to accommodate their customers, Woodland Hill Winery is seeking a license that would not only allow them to offer a choice, but which would also allow them to support other local small businesses.

The winery’s current license only allows the sale of the wine produced at the winery.

So far, the request seems pretty simple, and it is simple, until the government steps in.

Wright County Chief Deputy Attorney Brian Asleson explained that the county is only able to issue seasonal strong beer licenses to certain types of businesses in unincorporated areas of the county.

These businesses include bowling alleys, golf clubs, and restaurants.

Wineries are not included on the list, but Asleson said Woodland Hill Winery may qualify as a restaurant under the definition in the statute.

However, Asleson said after contacting the state multiple times, he has still been unable to get a clear answer on whether or not the county can issue a seasonal strong beer license to the winery.

So here we have an example of local business owners who have a simple request that would help their business as well as other local businesses.

According to Asleson, the local unit of government – Franklin Township – supports the winery’s request for a seasonal strong beer license.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the next unit of local government – the Wright County Board – appeared to be in favor of issuing the license as long as they were able to do so.

In spite of this, the state, which is the ultimate authority in this case, is proving to be an obstacle.

It might be easier to understand if the answer was a definite yes or no.

But in this case, the very agency that administers the state law that applies to this request, is apparently incapable of understanding the very law it is charged with administering, and, as a result, commerce comes to a screeching halt while the lawyers try to figure out if the county can issue the license or if it can’t.

When we reach the point at which government can no longer understand its own rules, the time has come to simplify things.

What we need is a massive dose of common sense, and we need it now.

Obviously, logic has been removed from the equation, and we need to bring it back.

It seems like in this case, the local unit of government should be able to decide whether or not to issue a liquor license.

Barring that, if the state is going to take control, the state should first understand its own rules, and, second, be able to explain them in a clear and direct way so it doesn’t take teams of lawyers and weeks of delays to figure out if a government agency can issue a simple liquor license.

The board tabled the Woodland Hills request until Asleson can get a clear answer from the state about whether or not the county can issue a license.

This is just one example of how government interferes with progress.

Unless there is a clear reason why the state or federal government needs to be involved, decisions should be left up to the smallest unit of government possible.

Not only is it more likely local units of government will have a better understanding of their communities and their constituents, there is a reasonably good chance they will be able to understand their own rules.

That is apparently more than can be said about the state of Minnesota.

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