February 6, 2004

Local Reps Talk Town-Gown Issues

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Noisy, reckless, drunken, off-campus recreation was the topic of discussion at last night’s Campus-Community Coalition meeting.

Attendees, who included city and campus law enforcement officials; local landlords and tavern owners; members of the Ithaca Common Council; Mayor Carolyn Peterson; and representatives from Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College met at the Tompkins County Library for a debriefing on the history of the Coalition, including its objectives and the status quo of current quality-of-life-related initiatives.

Among the presenters was Leigh Ulrich, owner of Rulloff’s, who promoted a server training program, designed to teach bar employees how to create healthy and legal drinking environments.

“[The training program] is a really helpful tool to help you with the issues surrounding the operation of a bar,” Ulrich explained.

“It’s an effective way of reducing alcohol-related incidents,” added Tim Marchell ’82, director of alcohol policy initiatives at Cornell.

Gary Stewart, assistant director of government and community relations at Cornell, presented a new door hanger initiative, in which door-knob hangers, detailing the city’s drinking and noise ordinance laws, are distributed in off-campus neighborhoods.

“It’s not the biggest thing in the world,” he said. “But it helps.”

However, it was Common Council Rep. Michael Taylor’s ’05 (D-Fourth Ward) proposed revisions to city noise ordinance policies that inspired passionate and lively discussion among attendees. The policy revisions more clearly define arenas that violate noise ordinances and contain measures that aim to specifically target the behavior associated with unruly off-campus events.

First to respond were those speaking on behalf of Collegetown landlords. Concerned that the noise policies unfairly punish landlords for the behavior of their tenants, but at the same time exasperated with the hysteria and property-destruction that result during party weekends, they argued that landlords deal with the majority of the consequences and receive the brunt of the blame for off-campus behavioral degeneration.

Having argued these points, Kyle Couchman, manager for a Collegetown landlord, also underscored his belief that most off-campus events are both responsible and unobtrusive, and mainly felt the need to reform those few that posed a serious threat to the area’s quality of life.

“A lot of students are concerned with the ways this will affect parties. I have seen a lot of parties that are not excessive. I am talking about the large parties that are irresponsible,” he explained. “Everybody’s asleep the next day, when we have to clean up the mess.”

During the discussion, the issue of appropriate law enforcement also received some attention. While all seemed to agree that a certain amount of law enforcement was needed to enforce civil ordinances, the attendees disagreed on the actual specifics. The police department continued to argue that policies dealing with these issues are in place, but that at certain times during the year–namely, orientation and senior week–they are spread thin.

Christine Barksdale, a police officer on East Hill, also explained the department’s desire to educate students on the dangers of their behavior, rather than arrest them for every drinking-related law violation.

“There’s this issue that we don’t want to be arresting students all the time,” she said. “We’d like to be educating [them] as well. When we arrest a student, it takes us off the street and off active patrol.”

Mayor Peterson and others suggested that personal conversation between Ithaca residents and students could serve as a conduit of understanding. However, Common Council Rep. Pam Mackesey ’89, believes that the fundamental problem is the habit of binge drinking.

“At the center of this is the alcohol,” she said. “Meetings and forums are great, but they occur when the students are sober. When students get drunk they’re really not that rational.”

In addition to concerns from Ithaca residents and representatives, college students expressed their anxieties at being explicitly targeted –and even antagonized– by residents, city officials, and in public policy.

“I think there needs to be further communication between law enforcement, residents and students,” said student Trustee Jackie Kopell ’05. “I think that, ultimately, people aren’t giving students a chance to correct their behavior. Respect is cyclic and I think that when students feel respected, they will return the respect.”

Marchell hopes that the spirit generated in this meeting will manifest itself in coalition efforts throughout the semester. Prospects for the future include a student forum on drinking related issues and discussions on recreational alternatives to binge drinking.

Archived article by Ellen Miller