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Milwaukee ready to reverse no-drinking ordinance

5/18/2005 - Milwaukee Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Millions of baseball fans have chugged
Milwaukee's finest suds while grilling burgers and brats before
Brewers games over the last quarter century -- and it turns out
every one of them was imbibing illegally.

A city ordinance passed in 1980 -- and which city officials are
about to override -- says it's unlawful for anyone to drink
alcoholic beverages in public parking lots or public structures.

That would include the parking lots around Miller Park, which
was built on the site of the old County Stadium instead of downtown
in part because the team wanted to maintain the tailgating
tradition.

It's as much a part of the Brewers as the secret stadium sauce,
giant racing sausages and their lederhosen-clad mascot, Bernie
Brewer, who used to slide into a giant beer mug at the old
ballpark.

The drinking tailgaters, many of whom wanted to get a buzz
before the game to avoid the higher costs of ballpark concessions,
were all breaking the law.

Who knew?

Almost nobody.

That is, until Milwaukee police took over security duty at the
ballpark this season from the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department
-- which isn't in the business of enforcing city ordinances.

Alderman Michael Murphy, who represents the Miller Park area,
said a vigilant police sergeant told him he'd have to ticket
tailgaters between $50 and $250 for drinking alcoholic beverages
outside the ballpark.

"This guy was a law-and-order police sergeant who was just
doing his job," Murphy said.

But Murphy didn't want fans being taken for felons just for
sampling some of Brew City's best beverages, so he called assistant
city attorney Bruce Schrimpf, who agreed there was a quandary.

So, Murphy introduced legislation that allows tailgate drinking
this season as a "special event" under the city's ordinance while
he worked out a proposal to make the exemption permanent.

"We didn't want a bunch of lawbreakers on our hands, although
we could have made a lot of money," Murphy said.

"I tried to make it illegal to drink Budweiser," while keeping
locally brewed Miller products free of fines, Murphy joked.

The city's Common Council is scheduled to vote on the permanent
exemption Friday, and it's not expected to receive any opposition.

"You're talking about Milwaukee here," Murphy said with a
laugh.