PHOTO: Fort Payne City Council President Brian Baine discusses his views on Alcohol Sales in the Fort Payne city limits. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)
By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — (Watch the Full Video at the Bottom) At today's meeting of the Fort Payne City Council, it was decided to let the people decide on the issue of Sunday Alcohol Sales within the city limits. The first reading of Ordinance 2017-12 was held, which would amend Ordinance 2004-14 (The Alcohol Ordinance), allowing for the Sunday Sale of Alcoholic beverages in the City of Fort Payne.
Upon starting the discussion Council President Brian Baine said, "This was put on the agenda by myself, I was approached by other council members to do this, to place this on the agenda. I feel like each council member should have that right to do that. And to request something to be put on an agenda. I would like to say that this is a touchy subject with a lot of folks. I've gotten quite a few phone calls yesterday; since people knowing it was going to be on the agenda for today."
"I would just like to say, that during campaign time," Baine continued, "and during the city forum that we had in the city auditorium, my stance was that I was personally not for the sale of alcohol on Sunday, and personally I'm not for the sale of alcohol Monday through Saturday, but outside of that, I also made a statement that I feel like this ordinance for the wet/dry, was voted in by the people, and in order for it to be changed, I feel like that it should go back to the people if that change is to be made. That's not something that these five members up here would decide. I think that this vote should be sent out to the people."
City Attorney Rocky Watson then explained that the measure is, "a very similar approach to what was taken when the original alcohol ordinance was passed," and that this is the first reading of the ordinance, and, "it could be a year before the second reading, and the passage of that ordinance and is placed back on the agenda."
According to Watson, the council will then have to pass a resolution, asking the local legislative delegation to introduce a bill in the legislator, and "the consensus that I've heard in the work session I think was that it would be voted on by the people before this happened. The actual ordinance is out there, so that it can be discussed. And if changes are necessary, then they can be made. None of that will come about until number one, there is a local act passed, and number two, there is a vote that would take place by the public that would have to pass."
Watson did explain, however, that the Ordinance might need to be passed conditionally by the council so that the rules can be put in place and citizens will know exactly what they are voting for, but Sunday Sales would not be legalized until a popular vote and a bill is passed in Montgomery.
"If there is a vote, can it be done in connection with another election?" asked Chesser.
In part, Watson replied, "Yes, you would want to attach it to an election you are already going to have. The poll workers are there, the ballots are there, and although there is some expense to the city, it's not anywhere close to what the expense is if you have an independent election."
Councilman Wade Hill then said, "And I think that's the desire of the council; is to not have this been another expensive special election. I think what we've looked at is in order to get this up for a vote, it's got to be decided by a local bill, whether it is a vote by the council, or a vote by the people. And I think it's our consensus that we put this out to a vote for a people, rather than five people having to decide what's best for the town. Some people are going to construe that we're shirking our responsibilities, but I think Brian is correct in that five opinions don't govern the whole town."
"That's a mighty burdensome thing to put on five people, when this is probably the most continuous issue that we will address in our four year term. If you think we are shirking our responsibilities then I apologize for that, I just think you're wrong, but I think we are doing our due-diligence to make sure we are making the best decision for the community. This would be a resolution passed today, to get our local delegation to put a bill through legislature, and we know it would be the spring before this would be done. If that passes, it will come back to the people of Fort Payne to vote on that. If we tied it to an existing election, it would probably be the runoff next summer, or the next November (2018) general election," explained Hill.
"This is going to be a while coming about, it gives everybody plenty of time to research it and make up their mind. It's not something you want to rush out into, because you can't undo it once you do it. So, I think this is the best thing for city. It's going to be a painful process for some people, but I think it's going to be the best thing overall for the city," said Hill.
"The biggest thing that a lot of people are going to have to understand," Hill continued, "If this passes and the people vote it in, the City of Fort Payne is not going to gain a dime of alcohol money; it will go to the schools, to tourism, and to economic development, thats where that money all goes. This is not raising more taxes for Fort Payne. It is going to be increasing the coffers for those three entities that get that money now. It's not us passing another tax. This is going to be the people of Fort Payne making a decision, and passing it or not, and that's something we'll all have to live with. We all remember 2004, when it passed by less than 200 votes. There was a lot of time passed between then and now, but we'll find out what the will of the people is going to be in the next year."
Councilman Red Taylor reiterated his opposition: "Well I would like to say, having spent a little over 40 years in law enforcement, having to deal with drugs, alcohol, and drunks; I'm opposed to alcohol and I would agree with Brian, it would be fine with me if we would ban Monday through Saturday, let alone Sunday. I'm opposed to Sunday Sales, and I will continue to be against Sunday Sales and that's just the way it is. I don't believe in it, and I can't vote for it."
"I just want to say that even though I do not partake," then said Baine, "I work in an establishment that sells alcohol, it doesn't mean I have to partake of that, it doesn't mean that an individual has to come in and partake of that. That is not a reason to say, 'Ok, I don't want alcohol sales.' My preference is not to have alcohol sales. However, I do see how it can benefit, number one, our schools and things, if it went that way. I'm not saying that's what I'm leaning towards, I'm just saying I just want the people to make that decision. Because that's not a decision that I feel that we should make; that should be the people's choice, and the people's voice."
Citizen David Cochran then addressed the council, "If, and Wade said that all the tax went to all the schools and all, and is that not just the alcohol tax? And If I go to Bruce's and buy a six pack, won't I pay sales tax on top of that?"
"Yes," several council members responded.
"So, this one percent sales tax that ya'll voted without letting me vote, actually would grow more if we sold alcohol on Sunday," said the Cochran.
"Yes," the council then responded.
"I'm a little disappointed that ya'll would pass the one percent increase, but aren't willing to do this. It just seems a little bizarre to me," he said.
"Let me just say this David," said Taylor, "all of us weren't in favor of going up on the taxes."
"Well let me ask you something, when you were a trooper before we got alcohol here, did you ever see any drunks then?" he said. Taylor answered, "Yes sir, a lot of them. Sure did. There was a lot of them before and after alcohol sales."
"So it hasn't changed that much?" said the Cochran.
"It doesn't really matter if it's Sunday or Saturday or whatever, just having to deal with it as much as we did Dave, I just can't do it," answered Taylor.
"Well I've never had a DUI or arrested for alcohol and I enjoy alcohol," Cochran said.
"Well I had to put a lot of them in jail. Some of them I had to get down in the ditch and fight with," said Taylor.
"If you could take it away you still would?" Cochran then asked.
"I still would," said Taylor.
Mi Casita Owner Veronica Rodriguez spoke in support of Sunday Sales at the meeting: "I'm a business owner and I sell alcohol, and every time we get customers from out on the mountain, since we have a lot of visitors here, and they come to the restaurant on Sunday afternoons, asking for alcohol, and we say, 'we don't sell on Sundays.' So they just walk out. They have to go to Scottsboro, somewhere else because we don't have it."
"I'm not saying we have it all day," Rodriguez explained, "but at least in the afternoons, when the visitors come in, they have the choice, so they don't have to drive to Scottsboro or Rome, or anywhere else; we can have it here. I've had this business for 25 years as restaurant, and since we started alcohol (sales), I started alcohol, and we don't have problems with drunks, never had any problems with anyone, and it's really to the benefit of the city, that's my opinion."
After some further discussion, the council decided to authorize the attorney to draft a resolution to pass at the next meeting, which is the first step in the process to bring the issue to a public vote.
Watson also said that the measure would be worded so that, "this ordinance would be effective only upon the vote and approval by the Citizens of Fort Payne."
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