LETTER: Events Surrounding Beer Barter Cancellation

By Beacon Staff

The events leading to the cancellation of this year’s Great Northern Beer Barter were unfortunate. In order to meet all of the conditions set forth by the Whitefish City Council for the beer barter’s special event permit, we were required to sign an indemnification provision. As our insurance company stated, had we signed the provision, we would have been “uninsurable.” The contents of the indemnification were extremely broad, making Great Northern liable for nearly anything and everything surrounding all of that day’s Winter Carnival events. For this reason, and the inability to reach compromise with the city on the provision’s language, we withdrew our permit for the 2014 beer barter.

The city stated in a press release following our permit withdrawal that “indemnification and insurance are important requirements when a major event selling alcohol occurs on the City right-of-way.” If this is the case, why has an indemnification provision not been required for any prior special events? The reason is, every entity holding a special event is required to additionally insure the city of Whitefish. At the city council meeting, John Anderson concluded the permit conversation by saying that, “Many folks perhaps don’t realize this, but if someone gets hurt, it’s not the brewery who’s going to pay for it … The burden doesn’t fall on the brewery… it falls on the taxpayer.” Mr. Anderson, I can tell you that the brewery does in fact bear the burden of responsibility, both financially and ethically. We pay enormous insurance rates, as already do the taxpayers of Whitefish for exactly this purpose – in our case, to protect our business, and in the city’s case, to protect the taxpayer. To suggest otherwise is not accurate.

Rightfully so, we as a community spend thousands of dollars each year promoting Whitefish as a destination – a place to eat, drink and play. A phenomenal diversity of top-notch businesses is very evident, as is a very active Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. Clearly the investments throughout the community are bearing fruit. As the cancellation of the 2014 beer barter would suggest, misguided policy can bring a very swift end to much of what the community of Whitefish has spent years building. I believe the biggest burden to the taxpayer would be legislating against commerce. As it was suggested to me at the Feb. 3rd meeting, when “a child makes an agreement with a parent, there are consequences when the agreement is not upheld,” so too should there be consequences if our representatives do not uphold this community’s efforts to attract those who come to eat, stay, drink and play.

I’m not cynical enough to believe that the indemnification provision that was put forth by Councilor John Anderson via the city attorney’s office was intended to kill the feasibility of the beer barter. However, if this was the intent, shame on those who insisted on its installation. If it was not the intent, which I still believe to be the case, I highly suggest that the representatives of our city make intentional efforts to stop misguided procedures going forward – particularly those that inhibit business and commerce.

Marcus Duffey, general manager
Great Northern Brewing Company, Whitefish

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