Summit County Council candidates discuss liquor laws in final forum
The Summit County Council candidates’ forum on Thursday featured costumes, cocktails and discussions about the council’s role in fighting the Utah Legislature on, what some view as, outdated state liquor laws.
Future Park City co-founders Angela Moschetta and Sarah Berry partnered with Sarah Scott, a representative of Voterise, to host one of the final panels before the election to encourage engagement in local politics among a younger audience. Voterise is a nonprofit organization committed to increasing voter registration and turnout among 18 to 29 year olds and other underrepresented groups.
Nearly 30 people attended the event at Flanagan’s On Main, which included an opportunity for on-site voter registration.
Most of the candidates hoping to secure one of the four open seats on the five-member council this election participated in the forum, including wearing costumes. Republican Colin DeFord and Democrat Doug Clyde are contending for the seat currently held by Claudia McMullin, who decided not to run for a third term. Democrat Glenn Wright is challenging incumbent and Republican Tal Adair to the remaining two years left on former councilor Dave Ure’s term. Incumbents Roger Armstrong and Kim Carson are running unopposed in the election. Carson did not attend the event.
Moschetta and Berry moderated the first segment touching on various issues such as sustainability and workforce housing before opening the conversation to questions from the audience.
Ryan Heil, of Park City, asked the panelists about their ability and motivation to change the state’s liquor laws, while highlighting the potential economic benefits of relaxing those regulations.
Utah’s liquor laws are known for being some of the more stringent in the country with regulations such as the intent to dine and separate dispensing areas, also known as the “Zion curtain” or the “wall.” Over the years, the tourism industry has attempted to amend the laws, with no success.
Adair, who identified himself as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, said working with the Legislature “is an option.”
“I was talking to (Utah Senator) Kevin Van Tassell a couple weeks ago and he basically talked about whether the Zion curtain should come down and we were talking about that and he seemed to think that may be a possibility,” Adair said. “I would work with it, where it makes sense, but I don’t know all the ins and outs of the whole bill but I think working with the Legislature where it makes sense is an option.”
DeFord said part of the challenge is the lack of data about the impact the state’s liquor laws have had on tourism.
“We are not even collecting the data to push this toward the state, we need to be able to tell the Legislature that we are losing ‘X’ amount of money because we have liquor laws that may be out of date,” DeFord said. “I think that is the first part.”
Clyde acknowledged the issue as one that has been at the forefront of community discussions since he arrived in Park City in 1978. He said he would be willing to put more pressure on the Legislature to rethink the laws.
“The Legislature, I believe, has been willing to make incremental improvements. We just have to remember who we are working with and we have to work with them diligently and closely,” Clyde said. “But they want to make money and they want more income in the state, everyone understands that. We just need to keep the pressure on and we need to use very good judgment when we talk to them. There is no pounding our fists on the table. This is about trying to negotiate with people who have different value systems than ours.”
Wright, also said he would champion a change if elected.
“I would certainly be willing to take this to the Legislature, but I think the previous points that it will be difficult to work within the Legislature, are completely valid,” Wright said. “One of the things that talks in the Legislature is money…Start electing people who agree with you more. There is an opportunity in this election to elect some allies. But beyond that we may be running into a brick wall.”
In an interview with The Park Record after the forum, Heil said the state is “so fractured in Summit County and Park City.”
“Where is the logic in handcuffing the No. 1 visible element in Utah and the tourism that Utah puts its own money behind?” Heil said. “If Main Street stayed open for at least another hour, it would but us on par with at least 30 other states.
“Our liquor laws are draconian and everyone knows it,” he said. “I don’t understand why I don’t hear more candidates say it is a fight they will take on because I heard very different answers from all of them and I think that is the type of issue a Summit County voter might want to take into account.”
Last week, the Summit County Clerk’s Office began sending mail-in ballots to registered voters. The deadline to register to vote is Nov. 1. The return ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 7, the day before the General Election.
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Each of the Park City area’s state legislators have a lot more than just ski resorts and restaurants on their mind – try roads, natural gas and a state university as well.