Royal Oak City Commissioners agreed on the problem: increasing numbers of drunk partiers coming on chartered "party buses" breed disorderly behavior at downtown entertainment areas. But they couldn't agree on a solution to the problem during their four-hour meeting Monday night.
In the end, the commission approved 4-3 the first reading of a proposed ordinance that penalizes drivers or owners of the chartered vehicles with a civil fine up to $500, but only if they know about disorderly or illegal behavior on the vehicle and allow it. Mayor Jim Ellison and Commissioners Patricia Capello and Jim Rasor opposed the ordinance, while Commissioners Terry Drinkwine, Michael Andrzejak, Chuck Semchena and David Poulton voted to support it.
"I think the ordinance is too broad and would have a negative impact" on business, Ellison said during the discussion.
Rasor agreed. "What this is going to do is tell people to spend their money elsewhere," he said.
Interim Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue stated his case in asking for help in dealing with fights, indecent exposure and other disorderly conduct related to the stretch limousines and buses in which groups of people travel to Royal Oak's downtown, often drinking alcohol on their way.
"The bigger issue is people use (the party buses) as an excuse to get highly intoxicated before they arrive at their destination," O'Donohue told commissioners. Without being able to prohibit drinking in the vehicles, the chief said he looks at the proposed ordinance to "set the tone" that Royal Oak doesn't condone behavior that requires police resources and often results in arrests.
After hearing from a charted vehicle company owner and a party bus driver during public comment that such an ordinance would discourage them from bringing customers into Royal Oak, several of the commissioners pointed out that enforcement of the ordinance would be problematic.
Rasor peppered the police chief with questions about how to enforce the ordinance, then suggested "let's manage the problem instead of 'setting the tone'," before the vote.
City Attorney David Gillam, who drafted the proposed ordinance after months of discussions with police officials and the city's Liquor Control Committee, said the problem is not unique to Royal Oak but no other community has addressed it either.
"At least we'll have a tool to deal with the problem downtown," Semchena said in supporting the ordinance.
The matter is to go before the commission for a second reading at its next meeting, Nov. 14.