Keene is one step closer to adopting an ordinance that would hold the hosts of social gatherings responsible for ensuring their parties stay under control.
The City Council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee voted Wednesday to send a proposed ordinance back to the full council for a second read, after the council did the first read last week.
The first offense for violating the ordinance would be a $300 fine, which could be levied against either the host or any person at a gathering who continues to violate the new rule after a verbal warning. The fine for the second offense would be $500, and the fine for subsequent offenses $1,000, both to be served on a party’s host. Penalties would be cumulative for up to a year after the issuance of the first fine.
During Wednesday’s committee meeting, only one member of the public raised a concern about the draft ordinance.
Tim Zinn, a member of the Concerned East Side Neighbors, a grassroots advocacy group that has been working toward implementing a social host ordinance in Keene for the past couple of years, said he was worried about the fact that the ordinance would attach the violations to individuals rather than buildings. Multiple people living in the same residence could take turns dealing with the police so fines don’t escalate, he noted.
“When the officer arrives, [hosts] come to the door one at a time on each occurrence and kind of delay that progressive nature of the ordinance,” he said.
City Attorney Tom Mullins explained that the committee had two choices, to connect violations to people or places. People were chosen because ultimately, the individual who receives the fine is responsible for answering it, he said. He acknowledged, however, that Zinn’s hypothetical scenario is possible.
Committee Chairwoman Kate Bosley said she felt it was important to attach the fines to people rather than places since the ordinance is largely geared toward college students who are known to move frequently. She wanted to be sure new tenants aren’t made to answer for the actions of those who lived there before, she explained.
“College students, by nature, tend to be a little bit transient, and I like the ordinance being tied to the individual because if that person moves to another apartment and just has naughty behavior at a different apartment, there needs to be that association there,” Bosley said. “... if new tenants move in, they should have a clean slate.”
The ordinance would also involve hiring a part-time person, whose pay would be split between the city and Keene State College. Their responsibilities would include keeping track of citations, reaching out to landlords if one of their tenants is issued a fine and fulfilling other duties related to the ordinance.
City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said the contract would be put forth as an amendment to the shared services agreement between the city and the college, which would be sent to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee for discussion before going to the full council for a vote. She said the amendment has been reviewed by Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell.
“[Treadwell] has agreed to that and she has also agreed to the 50/50 split,” Dragon said. “It is a 20-hour a week position and for the remainder of this year, which is about half a year, it’s about $7,500 each.”
During the council’s Oct. 15 meeting, Dragon noted that she had identified a funding source for this position within the city budget. She said the money would be taken from one of the city's contract services lines and moved to the police department's personnel line.
All four committee members in attendance Wednesday — Bosley, Gladys Johnsen, Philip Jones and Catherine Workman — voted to advance the ordinance to a second read before the full City Council, which will next meet Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. If the council approves it, the ordinance would go into effect on Dec. 31.