Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sunday liquor details unclear

Council to debate restaurant-only sales
By Evan Belanger, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Decatur voters will decide April 13 whether to allow Sunday alcohol sales, but it remains unclear what restrictions those sales might face.

On Monday, using a 2005 local act, the City Council scheduled a special election to decide the issue.

If the voters approve Sunday sales, that act will allow the council to control Sunday sales by ordinance. But it also lets city officials wait until the vote is as few as 10 days away before holding a public hearing that will reveal those regulations to the public.


Some city officials said Tuesday they were not sure yet what those regulations would include or exactly when they would be decided.

“I think if it’s going to pass, it would be helpful to have some regulations to make people feel more comfortable with it,” said Council President Greg Reeves.

Reeves said he expects the council will begin discussing possible regulations as early as next month. He proposed one regulation that would limit Sunday sales to restaurants, excluding businesses that sell alcohol for off-premise consumption.

“I think that the primary motivation for Sunday sales is to bring restaurants to Decatur who require this as a condition,” he wrote in the e-mail to The Daily.

That proposal is likely to face opposition. John Seymour, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday the chamber would not support a restaurant-only restriction because off-premise sales represent a significant portion of total alcohol sales in the city.

Meanwhile, most other elected officials said they had not had time to consider possible regulations.

Monday’s decision schedules the Sunday-sales referendum to coincide with another special election.

It came as a last-minute addition to the council agenda, and most councilmen said Tuesday they were not aware of the upcoming vote until hours before the meeting.

While Councilman Gary Hammon called for the referendum in November, the council never formally discussed the proposal.

City Attorney Herman Marks said Tuesday the council could not wait until its next meeting and still schedule the referendum for April 13 because of advertising requirements.

He also said the matter was not included in the council’s published agenda when it was released Friday because city officials did not know at the time when the election would be.

Pending approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, voters will also decide April 13 whether to switch from a council-mayor form of government to a council-manager government.

Retired city employee Gary Voketz, who collected 1,100 signatures to force that election, said Tuesday he was pleased it would coincide with the Sunday-sales vote.

“I think the more people that vote the better,” he said.

Councilman Billy Jackson complained Tuesday the Sunday-sales referendum is not as likely to pass in a special election and alleged city officials were proposing it because they thought it would fail.

Hammon, Mayor Don Stanford and Councilman Roger Anders have all said they morally oppose Sunday sales, but they support the public’s right to choose.

Hammon said he proposed the Sunday-sales referendum to save money by tying two elections together. The council has already set aside $75,000 to cover the expense.

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