HUDSON -- Nights in downtown Hudson were relatively quiet this weekend, as a 10 p.m. bar close went into effect on Thursday, Dec. 10.
Bars and restaurants were busy up until the 10 p.m. hour, but as they closed down the city did not see any problems, Police Chief Geoff Willems said.
"It was a day and night difference," he said.
Increasingly large weekend crowds and a fatal stabbing led the common council to declare a state of emergency and implement a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants within city limits.
The ordinance applies to all establishments that sell liquor for on-site consumption, and will be in effect on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Dec. 23, 24, 25 and 31.
Hudson has seen a continued increase in people crossing the border from Minnesota since the Gopher State’s bars and restaurants were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re coming here in droves, in inordinate numbers because we are open and Minnesota is not, period,” Mayor Rich O’Connor said in a special meeting to address the issue on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
The crowds were causing enforcement issues for law enforcement, and driving up requests for mutual aid from EMS. Police call volumes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. have seen 100% increase most of the time, Willems said. The department frequently had to reach out to North Hudson and the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department for mutual aid.
It made things overwhelming for officers, Willems said, who were not only dealing with more calls, but calls that were serious in nature, including beatings and robberies.
With the ordinance now in place, the Hudson Police Department will be in charge of following up to verify any potential violations. The issue would then be passed on to the common council to determine action, including potentially revoking the establishment’s liquor license.
The city’s early close ordinance does not seem to have impacted surrounding communities. One concern was the crowds would be pushed out to towns, but Willems said North Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls departments did not report an increase in volume over the weekend.
State of emergency
In the Dec. 8 special meeting, City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick explained the move does not have any case law around it, as bar close is set by the state and municipalities generally are not allowed to change that — something the Tavern League of Wisconsin has brought up to the city. Declaring a state of emergency, however, gives the authority to do what is necessary to address that emergency.
Focusing narrowly on the specific conditions of the emergency is required under the state of emergency statute, Munkittrick said, which this ordinance does. Having the ordinance apply only to the establishments selling liquor on-site is another way to narrow in the response.
Any ordinance is subject to legal challenge, Munkittrick said, but this one is written to fit within what is allowed by declaring a state of emergency.
Council member Randy Morrissette II questioned if the council is overreacting too quickly. City Administrator Aaron Reeves said the crowds and enforcement issues have been a growing problem.
“This past weekend was the unfortunate culmination of issues that have been building,” Reeves said.
The ordinance will run through the end of the year, and can be reconsidered by the council at its Jan. 4 meeting or at any time after this.
Council member Sarah Atkins Hoggatt asked if the ordinance could at all be tied to Minnesota’s reopening, but Munkittrick emphasized the importance of narrow, definite action tied to current circumstances.
“I think it’s more likely to be challenged if it’s an indefinite end date,” Munkittrrick said.
O’Connor said the city will have a few weekends of experience from this time range, and that the onset of winter weather might actually help the issue.
Private parties held at establishments that fall under the ordinance will have the option to apply to city staff for an exception. Council members expressed concern about excluding private parties outright, in case it was used as a way to get around the ordinance.
An initial weekend limit would be reasonable, Willems told the council, as it considered making the ordinance applicable 7 days of the week. The weekends see much higher numbers of crowds and calls. Council member Paul Deziel said the city can try it out and come back if adjustments are needed.
Deziel made the motion to include the private party exception, and add Thursdays to the ordinance, saying the city had to act that night.
“Everybody has to make sacrifices for public safety,” he said.
Morrissette gave what he called a reluctant second, saying he did not want to see the ordinance extended to the full seven days.
O’Connor told the business owners that the city does support them, even if this may not seem like it. Downtown, though, belongs to the people, O’Connor said.
“The citizens of our city are afraid, they fear for their safety when they even contemplate going into our downtown area,” he said. “We need to address this situation.”