Watkinsville City Council tonight tabled discussion of a possible liquor-by-the-drink referendum in the city until it can get clarification on the legal implications of a county-wide referendum already on the November ballot.
While the Oconee County Board of Commissioners and County Attorney Daniel Haygood have discussed the November referendum entirely in terms of its impact on the unincorporated parts of the county, Watkinsville City Attorney Joe Reitman said the county referendum could affect the city as well.
Reitman said he needs to talk with legal experts at the Georgia Municipal Association to determine if a vote for liquor sales by citizens of Oconee County, including residents of the municipalities, would make it unnecessary for citizens in those cities to vote again on sales in their communities.
Reitman said he will call GMA General Counsel Susan Moore in the morning and suggested that Mayor Charles Ivie join in a conference call.
County Vote Last Week
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted last Tuesday (Aug. 5) to put a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot to allow citizens to decide if they want the sale of mixed drinks in county restaurants.
The discussion has been about a county ordinance that would define where in the unincorporated parts of the county restaurants serving liquor could be located.
No mention has been made in any of those discussions about what would happen in Watkinsville or the county’s other three cities, Bogart, North High Shoals and Bishop, should the referendum pass.
Beer and wine currently are sold in Bogart, Watkinsville and the unincorporated parts of the county, but liquor is not sold legally anywhere in the county.
Ivie Introduced Discussion
At the meeting in City Hall tonight, Watkinsville Mayor Charles Ivie initiated the discussion (video clip above) of a separate November referendum involving Watkinsville voters, but the discussion quickly turned to the consequences of the county-wide vote.
Reitman said it may be possible that a county-wide positive vote, with a majority of Watkinsville citizens voting for the change, would authorize the City Council to pass its own liquor-by-the-drink ordinance without putting the issue on the ballot inside the city.
Council member Brian Brodrick expressed reservations about the Council taking action regardless of the uncertainty about the implications of the county vote.
“We’ve had no citizens to my knowledge publicly request that liquor-by-the-drink be on the ballot,” Brodrick said. “No restaurants publicly requested it. I’d like to make a motion to not consider this until the next election cycle, once we know what the county’s going to do.”
The decision to table discussion was approved by all five Council members.
The Council would have to reconvene and vote in the next few weeks if it wants to meet the legal deadline of issuing a call for a referendum 60 days before the Nov. 4 election.