By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A group of customers at a local social club were angered last week after the manager told a group of developmentally disabled adults to leave.
The local adviser for People First, a self-advoacy group for developmentally disabled, is now negotiating with the Havre Vets Club to allow the group to stay as long as it wants.
Vets Club manager Gary Crossler and VFW post commander Ed Matter declined to comment. People First adviser Rebecca Hargis said Crossley told her he was concerned for the safety of the developmentally disabled customers since college students would likely be coming into the club and possibly getting rowdy.
About 25 to 30 developmentally disabled people and staffers from area group homes and activity centers were at the club Thursday night, said Jeff Richter of Great Falls, a residential assistant manager for Big Sandy Activities. The group included a Big Sandy contingent of five developmentally disabled people and three staffers.
Richter said the group had been going to karaoke at the Eagles Club but switched to the Vets Club last week after karaoke announcer Joe Ross moved his show there.
Hargis said the members of People First decided to start going to karaoke once a month about two years ago after trying it at a Christmas party. They stay at the clubs from 8 to 10 p.m. when they go to karaoke, she said.
Richter said that Thursday was the first time in the 10 years he's worked with developmentally disabled people that he's seen anyone ask them to leave a business.
At the time, he hadn't heard that the management was concerned for the group's safety, he said, and he didn't understand why they were being asked to leave.
"I've never been as mad as I was then," he said.
"If they were loud, I could see it. But they just blended in with the general public," he added.
Richter said he hopes the differences can be negotiated.
Hargis, a case manager with Opportunity Resources Inc. in Havre, said she arrived at the Vets Club at 8:45 p.m. to join the group.
"As I drove up, people were leaving the establishment," she said.
Becky Wimmer of Havre, a customer in the Vets Club on Thursday, said she and other customers were angered that the developmentally disabled people had been asked to leave.
"They were just having a good time. We were enjoying them having a good time. They were just singing and dancing like anybody else," she said in an interview.
Customer Bobbie Davey said she doesn't know why the club would be concerned about a conflict between the developmentally disabled group and college students. The group would have left on its own at 10 p.m., and the college kids don't usually start coming in until 10 p.m. or later anyway, she said.
"I think that's a little lame because I've been there when the college kids are there and it doesn't get rough," she added. "It just wasn't right. It just wasn't right at all."
Richter said he doesn't know why the club is willing to give up the sales from the group. The Big Sandy group spent about $30 Thursday in the short time it was there, he said.
"Money is money and it doesn't matter who it comes from, as long as they're not being obnoxious," he said.
Hargis said the group has never had problems at bars before.
She added that the situation at the Vets Club may work out.
"I've been dialoguing with the people at the Vets about this. It's not something that they're ignoring. It's just that we have an extreme difference of opinion," she said. "What I'm hoping is that they'll say, 'You're absolutely right. They have every right to be there.'"
Crossler didn't return calls asking for comment.
When called, Post Commander Jim Matter said, "I have no comment on whatever question you're going to ask me," and hung up.