Magistrate questions proposed plaza booking committee

Janie Slaven | CJ

District 4 Magistrate Mark Ranshaw and Deputy Judge-Executive Dan Price discuss scheduling and alcohol sales at the Judicial Center Plaza during Tuesday's meeting of Pulaski County Fiscal Court.

Pulaski County Fiscal Court closed Tuesday's meeting with one magistrate questioning whether the county is ceding control of its downtown properties to other government entities.

At issue was the possibility of forming a committee that would oversee scheduling for the Pulaski County Judicial Center Plaza, which is owned by the county but is within the Somerset city limits. The issue was first discussed publicly last Thursday during a SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority) meeting, as reported Sunday by this newspaper.

From that account, District 4 Magistrate Mark Ranshaw asked for more information about the committee. "Can the county give up control of making sure that spot is a family-friendly spot?" he asked.

Ranshaw then mentioned the court voting not to allow alcoholic beverages on the property. What he was referring to actually did not involve a vote. In October 2016, Jarfly Brewing Company had requested a letter of permission to sell their products during the now-defunct Harvest Moon Festival -- a county-sponsored event -- but the matter died for lack of a motion.

In the meantime, Somerset City Council voted last July to establish an Entertainment Destination Center (EDC) to help streamline the process of obtaining temporary alcohol sale permits for such events within its jurisdiction. Somerset City Attorney John Adams, who was in attendance at Fiscal Court, noted that the city-sponsored festivals held so far this year have largely used the county-owned plaza as a child-friendly area with inflatables.

"Now you're saying the city's passed this thing and the county cannot still put restrictions on the Judicial Center to say this is a family-friendly space for all festivals like that," Ranshaw persisted.

"I'm not sure there's a legal definition for a family-friendly space," County Attorney Martin Hatfield responded. "You're not excluding families or children."

Deputy Judge-Executive Dan Price said that the issue of a committee was more about building the canopy over the plaza stage and developing an application process that would help protect the space by ensuring cleanup and liability insurance. "If the space is somewhat rented," he added, "you can determine what enters it and what doesn't."

Judge-Executive Steve Kelley noted that bookings aren't currently voted on by Fiscal Court anyway; they are handled by simply reserving the space with his office.

"I just feel like we need to make sure that we have an area somewhere downtown that doesn't allow the alcohol, where people can still bring their families down to a festival and not have to worry about alcohol being sold," Ranshaw said. "I don't have a problem with anyone selling alcohol. I have a problem if we don't have a space [with no alcohol] for people who want to come to these festivals."

Adams suggested that cordoning off 10-15 percent of the area as an alcohol-free section for future events. "Otherwise you may overly restrict the use of Judicial Center Plaza," he said, adding the EDC festivals are highly regulated.

Price asked Ranshaw not to consider the plaza application process as the promotion of something negative.

"I think the Master Musicians Festival is very much a family-friendly place," Price added. "I take my family there every year. I think that every festival that's going on downtown from Somernites Cruise to whatever festival is a family-friendly place."

Hatfield compared the situation to when local cities first went "moist," with people that he knew were anti-alcohol still being able to eat at restaurants which served alcohol.

When asked for clarification about the proposed committee after the meeting had adjourned, Price said that it would not strictly be a SPEDA entity but have a mix of members representing the county and others. He added that with many 2020 dates currently booked, it may be some time before the application process is implemented.

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