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Sarah Smith, Park Rapids (Minn.) Enterprise, Published March 15 2009

Profanity ordinance divides Nevis

‘Muni’ all abuzz over proposal to crack down on swearing in bar

NEVIS, Minn. – The Friday night meat raffle packs the house at the Nevis municipal liquor store and bar.

Patrons fill the place, buying pull-tabs and a $1 chance to win one of several shrink-wrapped packages of meat displayed in the corner of the bar, a weekly fundraiser for the Nevis Fire Department.

On Friday the 13th, the talk in the “muni” – which sits kitty-corner from the self-proclaimed “world’s largest tiger muskie” – was about a proposed city crackdown on the raunchy tenor that’s irked some patrons of the establishment and is causing a schism in the town of 400.

Prompted by customer complaints, the city commission last week discussed whether it was wise or necessary to enforce a city ordinance mandating “respectful” behavior in the bar.

“I think it got blown out of proportion,” said Nevis resident Russ Hensel. “We might accidentally say something during a game of pool, but I don’t go on a tirade and swear across the bar.”

The commission is taking aim at use of the F-word; it’s become a point of contention late at night when booze is flowing and tongues get loosened up.

Patrons disagree over whether it’s a matter of free expression clashing with family values, or if it’s just plain wrong to characterize the issue as that.

In any event, when commissioners get complaints, they tend to act.

“It’s not free speech if it’s offensive,” snapped barmaid Barb Hanson, who admittedly is fed up with the late-night blue hue the bar takes on.

“But it’s not like it’s a new policy,” she said of the city ordinance. “Some just have to get the message.”

Nevis is a town unaccustomed to this kind of spotlight. It’s an all-for-one, one-for-all type of community.

City Commissioner Paul Schroeder has been caught in the middle of the morality play, and while recognizing the city is dealing with a bar, he believes striking a balance between decorum and reality is in the city’s best interest.

Liquor commissioner Heidi Schmeichel posted a sign in the muni that read, “BE GOOD OR BE GONE.” It was promptly removed.

“I don’t care if you’re at home in the bedroom or in the kitchen,” said patron Barb Sergot. “It’s gonna slip. People are people. It doesn’t stop. But it’s not gonna drive me out of here. At my age you’ve heard everything.”

Ralph Gorecki thinks the cursing could be contained by a diligent bartender.

A 30-day suspension, if the ordinance is enforced, “would be unfair to the taxpayers because this is a muni,” he said.

“A warning is enough. We’re losing money as it is,” Gorecki said. “You want to be that tough? They’ll just go down the street” to the Iron Horse Saloon, half a block away.

Sergot’s husband, John Reuvers, and other patrons believe the city should let the matter rest.

Hanson isn’t so sure. The tourist season is nearing, when the decorum takes a downward turn, she said. She’s not looking forward to taking a laissez-faire approach.

The debate will wage on and likely will die out eventually. But is has caused a chink in a small town’s armor.

“It’s dividing the town, and it’s dividing the customers – absolutely,” Reuvers said.

The Park Rapids Enterprise and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.