New tack on drinking fines
Town may seek lawmakers’ help
A Foxborough bylaw that would have charged a $200 fine for public inebriation has been rejected twice by the state attorney general’s office for conflicts with a 40-year-old statute that prohibits criminal or civil punishments for the intoxicated.
So unless the Acts of 1971 are changed, or bypassed by special legislation, no community - including those that host major entertainment venues such as Gillette Stadium in Foxborough or Comcast Center in Mansfield - can impose its own controls to offset endemic binge drinking, Foxborough officials said.
Rather than have the town pursue a legal appeal of the attorney general’s decision, which was filed in Superior Court in Dedham, Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary said the Dec. 5 Town Meeting will consider a request for a home-rule petition asking state lawmakers for special legislation to allow the same proposed fine for “public endangerment,’’ rather than intoxication requiring protective custody.
Assistant Attorney General Margaret J. Hurley had proposed the measure in an Oct. 3 letter to the town, referencing various nuisance-related bylaws the attorney general’s office has approved, from regulating excessive noise, public urination, and obstruction of public streets by crowds or vehicles to fights, litter, disturbance of the peace, and the service of alcohol to those under age.
Mansfield Town Meeting followed Foxborough’s lead last spring and approved a similar bylaw against public inebriation that was submitted to the attorney general’s office for approval. A spokesman for Attorney General Martha Coakley said a decision is expected later this month or in early December.
O’Leary has fought hard to curb excessive drinking in Foxborough, through educational programs for young people, strict limits on the hours of tailgating allowed in the stadium’s parking lots, and, he hoped eventually, the new bylaw.
The $200 fine is not a revenue source, as some have questioned, but a way to recoup costs, he has said. Those include paying emergency crews to transport people with alcohol poisoning to hospitals and hazardous materials crews to clean vomit from holding cells.
Protective custodies in Foxborough have nearly tripled since 2007, when the town issued 15 additional liquor licenses inside and near Gillette Stadium. In all, police detained 933 people last year.
While the number is down this year, officials said, it is still significant. Recently, for example, Foxborough police took 64 people into custody during an Oct. 22 college football game. According to O’Leary, 10 of 16 arrests at the Colonial Clash between Massachusetts and New Hampshire were for minors in possession of alcohol.
“The residents of Foxborough understand how difficult it is to provide a safe environment for everyone because of binge drinking,’’ O’Leary said. “If the new bylaw is passed in its entirely, it will disallow any previous law.’’
Late last month, Foxborough selectmen voted 4-1 to skip the appeal of the public intoxication bylaw, and to put the contract for town counsel services, currently held by the firm Deutsch Williams, out to bid.
Some in town questioned whether dropping Deutsch Williams was a slap at the firm for the failed bylaw, but selectmen board chairman Larry Harrington said it wasn’t.
“My reason for not supporting the lawsuit was that we would not win, and the attorney general gave us ideas on how to rewrite it,’’ Harrington said. “The reason for the proposal process is simply we should rebid everything every few years to make sure the town is getting the best price and service.’’
Selectwoman Lorraine Brue, the sole dissenter, said fellow board members did not take the time to discuss errors in the attorney general’s decision that the town’s law firm said were appealable, nor does the firm warrant replacement after providing solid service for several years.
“I certainly support retaining them and hope they participate in the bid process when it returns,’’ she said.
The law firm did not respond to a request for comment. Instead it sent a news release announcing that Paul DeRensis, its attorney who represents Foxborough and Mansfield, has been named one of the state’s seven “super lawyers’’ by information provider Thomson Reuters and Boston Magazine for the seventh-straight time since 2004.
Meanwhile, alcohol continues to be a hot topic in the stadium area. An application for a 20,000-square-foot, seven-day, all-alcohol package-store license in the former Circuit City location in Patriot Place is under town review. And the MillerCoors company is suing the New England Patriots after the team awarded an exclusive rights deal to Anheuser-Busch to make Budweiser its official beer through 2019.
Stadium officials have said they police drinking in the stadium, and that what the town decides to do outside is largely a local matter but that the two camps do work together and support each other.
Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos said he, O’Leary, and management at the Kraft Group are discussing other ways to structure security to offset alcohol problems. In the meantime, he said, the new bylaw petition has a good chance of overturning the 1971 state law he termed “outdated and completely ineffective.’’
“The philosophy in the 1960s was that alcoholism is a disease, which is still the case,’’ Paicos said. But a fair number of people who aren’t alcoholics get drunk and misbehave, he said. “Why should taxpayers have to bear the burden of their misbehavior?’’
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.