Knoxville — The City of Knoxville does not allow people under age 21 to be inside establishments that earn over half of its income from alcohol sales. This includes the VFW and American Legion. New complaints to the Knoxville Police Department sparked the discussion of whether or not to make exemptions for these Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs).
Jack Spaur, on behalf of the VSOs, asked the Knoxville City Council Monday night for three exemptions to allow children in these facilities.
The first is to allow children into the halls when families convene there following funerals. The second is to allow the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in after the flags have been raised for the Avenue of Flags. Every year, these children's organizations help raise the flags at Graceland Cemetery prior to Veterans Day and Memorial Day. A breakfast is traditionally served at the VFW following the flag raising and ceremony.
The third is to allow America's youngest veterans come to their post. Spaur said the posts are welcoming back veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, who are still under the age of 21. Welcoming them home is important to Spaur, a veteran of two wars himself, including Vietnam.
Police Chief Dan Losada said, after reviewing the organizations' books, found that 52 percent of their revenue comes from alcohol sales. The City's ordinance specifies 50 percent, though there is no state standard. He believes if the City makes an exemption for the VSOs, bars would seek the same courtesy.
"You can't change it for one once you've tortured everyone else," Councilor Dave Roozeboom said. Mayor Don Zoutte disagrees with the City's ordinance.
"I think the City's wrong," Zoutte said. He believes young vets should be allowed to go where they want.
City Manager Harold Stewart said there is value in separating bars from restaurants. He said the council needs to find out what the community's position is regarding allowing underage people in bars, and form a policy from there.
"You wouldn't want kids in a bar," Roozeboom said.
"They serve food all day long," Councilor Elsie Kemp said of the VFW. "They're closer to a restaurant than most (bars) would be."
"I've been going there probably a good 50 years," Zoutte said.
"I grew up going there," Councilor Tim Pitt added. The VSO is different than a bar, to him, because grandparents like to bring their grandchildren in.
Losada believes that if the council lowers the percentage of sales of alcohol allowed for an establishment to allow children, the problem could grow.
"If you're going to change this...I think you're going to have to go to 40 percent," Losada said. "Pick a percentage and make it your final decision."
Spaur told the council that, unlike bars, the VSO sells alcohol to keep the doors open. A great deal of the money spent inside the VSOs are shared with community organizations, especially those that provide for children.
"We give to veterans," Spaur said. "We give to the youth of Knoxville."
Councilor April Verwers believes it is a "slap in the face" for the ordinance to keep underage veterans out.
The ordinance will not be enforced until after July 1. The discussion was tabled until the next council meeting. Meanwhile, children will be allowed inside the VSOs, as at least two funerals are scheduled to have events there in the interim.