Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis’ efforts to get alcohol referenda on the ballot in November got a slight push-back from two of his Commission colleagues last (Tuesday) night.
Commissioner Jim Luke said the county needed to do more to warn the citizens that the referenda were under consideration by the Board, and Commissioner Mark Saxon agreed.
The bigger setback for Davis came from County Attorney Daniel Haygood.
Haygood told the commissioners that getting separate referenda on the November ballot for Sunday sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and for Sunday sale of beer, wine and alcohol by the drink in restaurants is straightforward, requiring only a majority vote of the Commission.
Getting package sales of alcoholic spirits in what would be liquor stores, which the county does not now have, would be much more difficult, Haygood said, requiring petitions signed by 35 percent of the county’s 22,187 registered voters, or 7,766, before the issue could go on the ballot.
The commissioners agreed to take out an advertisement in The Oconee Enterprise to warn citizens the issue will be on the agenda for consideration and possible action when the Commission meets again on Aug. 2.
Aug. 10 Deadline
The Commission would have to decide by Aug. 10 if it wants to put the Sunday sales on the ballot.
“I think it is almost impossible to get the distilled spirits by the package by this election,” Haygood said.
Commissioner Luke said he was concerned about the timing of the Sunday sales referenda.
“The public is not going to have very much opportunity to know about this in the short term,” he said. “It seems as though in an issue like this we ought to try to get a feel for the pulse of the public on whether they want a referendum or not.”
Saxon said he agreed, but Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes said that he was ready to put the issue on the ballot.
That video below contains all of the discussion of the issue at last night’s meeting.
All agreed in the end to keep the issue on the agenda for the meeting on Aug. 2, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
While Davis feigned ignorance about the particulars of the law and what the county would have to do to put the issue in the ballot in the early part of the discussion, as the video above shows, he was the instigator of the discussion, an examination of email messages shows.
Davis sent County Attorney Haygood an email on July 1, copied to the three voting commissioners, saying “As you know, the BOC has received several requests regarding allowing the citizens to vote, in November, to authorize Sunday Sales of alcoholic beverages.”
Davis added that “There has also been discussion requesting the voters to allow package stores to be located in Oconee County.”
Davis asked Haygood to “give some thought to developing a draft ordinance” for the Board to consider. He said “This may be a topic for discussion” at the July 19 meeting.
When Davis created the agenda for last night’s meeting, released to the public on Friday afternoon, it contained the item: Discuss Sunday Alcohol Sales Referendum.”
When Davis introduced the topic last night and turned to Haygood for discussion, Haygood immediately included package sales in liquor stores in his response.
Letters In Support
Davis had forwarded to the commissioners a series of letters in support of Sunday sales of beer and wine in groceries.
They came from Kroger’s (three letters), Publix (one letter), and Wal-Mart (identical letters signed by five different people).
The Wal-Mart letters all were dated June 14, 2016.
The three Kroger’s letters were dated June 16, 2016.
The Publix Letter was dated June 26, 2016.
None of the letters, which I obtained through an open records request, mentioned package sales of alcohol.
The General Assembly changed Georgia law in 2011, allowing for the sale of beer and wine in grocery, convenience, and liquor stores on Sundays.
The law also allowed for Sunday sale of beer, wine and alcoholic drinks in restaurants.
Athens-Clarke County passed referenda allowing Sunday sales in 2012.
The BOC allowed beer and wine sales in restaurants in 2008. The sale of beer and wine in grocery stores already was in place at that time.
Voters approved the sale of liquor by the drink in November of 2014.
Until last night, the BOC had not discussed Sunday sales or package sales in liquor stores.
No one said this last night, but what is different now is that the Bishop Company of Atlanta is trying to lure Costco to locate in Phase II of an expanded Epps Bridge Centre, across from the existing shopping center.
The preliminary site plans approved by the county’s Development Review Committee last week include a 146,290-square-foot building that will face Plaza Parkway west of its intersection with the Oconee Connector.
The site plans show fuel station bays in front of the building, and Costco, a membership-only warehouse club headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, near Seattle, has been mentioned as a possible tenant.
Costco stores across the country sell and heavily promote beer and wine products.
Many have liquor stories either as part of their operations or attached to them.
Sam’s Club on Atlanta Highway, which is a competitor to Costco, already has Sunday sales and liquor sales.
The Oconee County site will be less attractive to Costco than a site in Athens-Clarke County or elsewhere without a change in the county’s liquor laws.
A full video of the BOC meeting last night is below.