Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oconee County Candidate Forums Feature Discussion Of Liquor Issue Most Candidates Unlikely To Confront

November Vote Likely

While liquor by the drink has played a prominent role in all three of the candidate forums, and was particularly central at the forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, it is likely that the issue will be resolved before the terms of the current commissioners expire at the end of the year.

Post 3 Commissioner Margaret Hale acknowledged that likelihood at the forum last night, when she said the issue probably will be on the ballot in November.

For that to be the case, the Board of Commissioners will have to vote by the end of August to put the issue before the voters.

Even if Hale and incumbent Post 2 Commissioner John Daniell are defeated in the May 20 Republican primary or in a July runoff, the matter of the referendum is likely to be settled before a successful Post 2 challenger John Larkin or successful Post 3 challengers Maria Caudill or Bubber Wilkes would take office in January.

Three Votes Needed

For the referendum to be put on the ballot, it only would need the support of three Commissioners.

The issue has not been formally introduced to the Commission, and only Daniell and Hale have been forced to state their positions–as a result of the three candidate forums.

Both have said they have not yet decided if they will vote for or against putting the issues before the voters.

One of the three needed votes could come from Commissioner Jim Luke, who voted to allow beer and wine sales in the county when that issue came before the BOC in 2008.

Another could come from BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, who also voted for beer and wine sales.

The third positive vote in 2008 came from then Commissioner Don Norris. This time, it could come from Commissioner Mark Saxon, who often sides with Davis on issues before the Commission and generally takes a pro-business stance on county matters.

Forum Questions And Answers

At the first candidate forum on April 17, Larkin and Caudill both said they would vote to put the issue on the ballot. Wilkes said he would vote that way as well if enough citizens asked him to do so.

The question presumed that the three challengers would be making such a decision in the future.

At the Chamber forum on Tuesday night, Cox Radio Host Tim Bryant, serving as moderator, was aggressive in pushing for an answer on a possible liquor-by-the-drink referendum from all five of the candidates.

“This is the main event question I think for a lot of people,” Bryant said. “Simple and straightforward: For or against letting Oconee County citizens vote for liquor by the drink sales and explain your answer.”

Hale said she was still seeking “citizen input” and would discuss it with anyone who wanted to talk to her about it.

Wilkes again said he would vote to put it on the ballot if citizens wanted him to do that.

Caudill said she would place it on the ballot.

Daniell said he was seeking more input from citizens before he decided.

Larkin said he would put it on the ballot.

The responses of the five are in the video below.

Third Forum Question

Liquor by the drink came up at the forum last night at the library, with Ann Stoneburner,1090 Apalachee Trace, raising the issue early in the evening.

The answers were repeats of those from the night before.

Stoneburner and her husband, Robert Wyatt, both active in the local Democratic Party, have been working to defeat Hale and Daniell and to elect Caudill and Larkin.

Voters do not register by party in Georgia and can vote in the primary of any party simply by asking for that party’s ballot at the polling station. No one has filed to run as a Democrat in the county races.

In response to one of the questions about liquor by the drink, Hale said the Chamber of Commerce already is working on informational materials to educate the public about the vote when it comes up in November.

Questions last night dealt with a wide range of issues, including a number about the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, already scheduled to be on the ballot in November.

Stoneburner was critical of the vote by Hale and Daniell to postpone until November the referendum on the 2015 SPLOST. Hale and Daniell said the delay was necessary to get additional information, particularly on plans for renovation of the courthouse.

Forum Attendance

About 40 people attended the first forum at the Watkinsville Community Center, and about 65 attended the Chamber forum at the Civic Center. About 35 attended the third forum at the library last night.

Russ Page and I organized the third forum.

The Chamber Forum also included five of the eight candidates for the 10th Congressional District.

The full video of all three forums is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.

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