Alcohol use defended at party attended by drug-abuse group

Social event for Municipal Alliance and Youth Services Commission held at Cherry Valley Country Club

By: Jake Uitti
   MONTGOMERY — What is the appropriate example that should be set?
   That is the question the Montgomery Township/Rocky Hill Municipal Alliance and Youth Services Commission — an organization that promotes alcohol and drug-abuse awareness and recognizes needs of youth in the township — is facing after a 2005 end-of-the-year party in December.
   During the event — which took place at the Cherry Valley Country Club and was meant to thank retiring members and raise awareness of the organization — the commission threw a party that included the serving of alcohol.
   Drinking by the members is legal, and alcohol wasn’t abused at the party, according to Mayor Louise Wilson and Township Committee members Mark Caliguire and Karen Wintress. Ms. Wintress attended the party and called it "subdued."
   Nevertheless, the issue of alcohol consumption at a commission-sponsored event was raised in an anonymous letter sent to some residents and The Packet. And it came up at the Township Committee’s work session last week, raising the question: Should the commission allow alcohol at its functions?
   The party was approved by the township’s Finance Department and by the Somerset County Municipal Alliance coordinator, said police Lt. Greg Harkins, chairman of the Municipal Alliance Committee.
   "It was a very nice evening, with about 30 people attending," Lt. Harkins said. "It was from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on a Tuesday. We honored and thanked our members."
   Deputy Mayor Cecelia Birge said, "It can be a fine line. But the alliance is a great group. It has been their position that they are a group against substance abuse. They promote reasonable understanding."
   The party came up at last week’s meeting not only because of the alcohol-consumption issue, but also to decide who will approve the party’s final bill.
   The money for the party does not come from township tax dollars. However, since the account for the Municipal Alliance Committee rests in the township finance office, Township Attorney Kristina Hadinger said, it is the Township Committee that must approve the expenditure for the party — a bill in the area of $1,200.
   Though the Municipal Alliance did nothing illegal, the question became one of "appearance to the public," Mayor Wilson said.
   "There has never been any credible suggestion, as far as I know, that the Municipal Alliance volunteers were drinking to excess," Mayor Wilson said. "It is not inappropriate for a group like that to have a party and thank its volunteers that have given a lot of time to the community."
   The Township Committee unanimously approved the funds for the party.
   "We’ve done everything we are supposed to do, and done it well," Lt. Harkins said. "We won’t skip a beat. It’s all about the work that gets done. It’s about trying to help people. We understand there are critics out there. At the same time, we encourage the critics to join us and do what this alliance has been doing over the years, which is good work in the community. The more the merrier."