Douglas County’s regulations for large public gatherings have changed in the wake of a court decision last year that required the county board to reconsider a permit for Bowfest.
The Douglas County Board denied the permit to Mont du Lac in May 2020 because the application was received too late to include the first day of the four-day event. The permit was issued in June 2020 after the board reconsidered, but it launched a year-long process to rewrite the ordinance.
Under the new ordinance adopted by the Douglas County Board on Thursday, June 17, the board no longer determines whether to permit gatherings of 1,000 people or more for six or more consecutive hours. Those events would be licensed by the Public Assemblage Licensing Review Committee. The committee includes the county administrator, county board chair, corporation counsel, county clerk, sheriff, land services director and the public health officer.
It also expands the grounds that allow denial of the license to include any federal, state or local emergency orders that have been issued prohibiting public gathering of the size for which the applicant is seeking.
The new ordinance introduces an appeals process that previously didn’t exist short of going to court. The county’s executive committee would review the application to consider whether a denial should be reversed or affirmed.
“We don't believe you should remove our due process from it,” said Mike O’Hara, manager of Mont du Lac Recreation. The resort is the only business in Douglas County that currently applies for the public assemblage permit.
“Judicial review, that isn’t something that’s being taken away,” said Carolyn Pierce, Douglas County corporation counsel. “It’s not in the ordinance anymore. State statute guarantees that right.”
The executive committee would also have the authority to revoke a license if conditions or emergency orders necessitate it.
But changes that weren’t made to the ordinance, such as striking language that prohibits promoting an event before the license is granted or requiring no public access during setup and take down operations, also raised concerns.
“We wouldn’t want to be prohibited from being open for the amount of time we’re setting up Bowfest,” O’Hara said. He said that could pose a challenge for a resort that’s open seven days a week.
With Bowfest being an annual event, O’Hara said he just wants to make sure they are not breaking the law.
Supervisor Peter Clark said Mont du Lac can apply for the license anytime; 90 days in advance of an event is a minimum time frame to apply for the license.
“I want you back here Aug. 1 of 2021, for third week of July 2022, going forward,” Clark said. “I want you to keep doing what you're doing … I love to see the signs up and people coming here."
A great deal of research and thought was put into the ordinance revision with a priority placed on safety for all, Supervisor Alan Jaques said. However, he said if any of the provisions of the new ordinance are unworkable, they could be amended later.
“This was trying to make it easier for both sides to comply,” Board Chair Mark Liebaert said.
He said while Mont du Lac is the only organization that applies for the permit currently, the ordinance governs the entire county.
After amending the ordinance to remove a single word, the board adopted it unanimously by voice vote.
“I think this ordinance will keep us out of court,” Jaques said.