The city of Watkinsville joins Oconee County in taking a lenient approach to enforcement of a key provision of its beer and wine ordinance.
License holders are required to document that they earn no more than 25 percent of their revenue from beer and wine, but, in the renewal applications for this year, only three of the four license holders provided information on food and beer and wine sales.
In 2012 and 2011, only one of the four restaurants provided that information. In 2010, the city had only three license holds, and only one provided the information on revenue from food sales and from beer and wine sales.
|Chops & Hops|
Oconee County has an identical requirement in its ordinance and only began asking license holds to provide evidence of compliance starting this year.
Neither Watkinsville nor Oconee County does any independent audits of compliance with the provision.
Requirement Of Ordinance
The Watkinsville ordinance, passed by the Mayor and Council in August of 2006, requires license holders to file quarterly reports showing the licensee’s gross sales for the quarter and gross dollar sales amounts for beer and wine.
An examination of the city’s files following an open records request showed no records prior to 2010.
License holders filed annual records in making their application for licenses starting with the 2010 license renewal requests, but those records are not consistent from license holder to license holder or even across time for the individual license holders.
The Mayor and Council have renewed the licenses based on the records submitted.
Oconee County began requesting detailed reports on sales of beer and wine and of non-alcoholic items for the renewal of licenses for 2014. Compliance with the requirement has been mixed, but the Board of Commissioners renewed licenses even with incomplete records.
Oconee County makes no effort to document compliance with another provision of the law that stipulates that the license holder cannot sell beer or wine to a patron unless the patron also purchases “a reasonable order of a meal or appetizer.”
For both the city and for Oconee County, these requirements are designed to keep bars from operating in favor of restaurants.
Liquor On Ballot
Voters in the unincorporated parts of Oconee County and in Watkinsville and the county’s other three cities will decide on Nov. 4 if they want to authorize the county and city governments to pass ordinances allowing for the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants within their jurisdictions.
The county-wide vote, including votes from within the cities, will determine if the Board of Commissioners is authorized to pass an ordinance allowing liquor sales in restaurants in the unincorporated parts of the county.
The majority of the commissioners has indicated it will put forward such an ordinance if voters authorize the Board of Commissioners to do so.
If a majority of voters in any of the cities also approves the county-wide referendum, the respective governing bodies of the cities would be authorized to pass a liquor ordinance for their jurisdiction.
None of the city governments has indicated so far that it plans to do that.
Early voting is underway and will continue through Oct. 31.
As of the end of the day today, 940 voters had cast their ballots, representing 4.2 percent of the 22,498 active voters in the county.
Watkinsville has three restaurants with beer and wine licenses: Chops & Hops, Girasoles and Mirko Pasta.
A fourth restaurant, Kumquat Mae, also had a license, but it closed suddenly last month.
Chops & Hops is in Town Center on Main Street, while Girasoles is nearby, also on Main Street.
Mirko is in Town Center.
Kumquat Mae was close by on Barnett Shoals Road.
Patrick Lang, license holder for Chops & Hops, reported that 20.3 percent of his sales in 2013 were for beer and wine. That figure had been 20.2 percent in 2012, 23.9 percent in 2011, and 18.2 percent in 2010, according to the reports on file in the Watkinsville city clerk’s office.
Jose Zambrano, license holder for Girasoles, has not reported data on the percent of sales for beer and wine in any of the last four years.
Tracey Stewart, license holder for Kumquat Mae, reported that 1.3 percent of her sales were for beer and wine in 2013. She did not report data for 2012 and 2011 and did not appear to have a license in 2010.
David Weeks, license holder for Mirko Pasta, reported that 6.3 percent of the restaurant’s sales were for beer and wine in 2013. He did not report data for 2012, 2011 or 2010.
Little evidence of opposition to or support for the county’s referendum has surfaced so far.
The Oconee Leader reported in its Sept. 25 edition that former Chamber of Commerce President Russell Lead has organized a group called Oconee Citizens for Better Economic Development to promote the referendum.
According to the article, Lee and his group planned to support the referendum through a web site, social media and mailers.
I have searched the web for the group but have found nothing.
I also could find no presence for the group or for Lee on either Facebook or Twitter.
I have called Lee’s home and cell phone numbers repeatedly since that story appeared and left voice mail messages each time asking Lee to return the call. I have heard nothing from him.