Emotions ran high at the town hall meeting held last Thursday by the Board of Commissioners to discuss the possibility of a referendum for liquor by the drink for Upson County. The forum, with more than 100 people attending, was heavily one-sided, with the majority of those who spoke against putting the issue to a vote by the general public.
Rev. Claude Turner was the first to speak and opened his statement by giving many statistics of the problems that alcohol can cause or contribute to, such as automobile accidents with fatalities while driving under the influence. Turner noted that he realized people had a right to drink and he was not going to demonize alcohol, however he feels if people want to drink they should do it at home where the likelihood of hurting anyone besides themselves is greatly lower. He also thinks there is no need for liquor by the drink sales in the county since there is an ordinance that allows for that already in the city limits of Thomaston.
“Alcohol is plenty available in Upson County,” said Turner. “If a restaurant wants to come to Upson County and serve alcohol by the drink, they are going to go into the city where it is already available because they want the services that are offered there such as electricity, sewage and traffic. They aren’t going to put it outside the city limits. Alcohol by the drink is available in Thomaston; we don’t need it in the county.”
Turner’s comments were met with applause from the crowd and his sentiments were reiterated by many who addressed the board.
Rev. Dean Hemphill, pastor of Clark’s Chapel Baptist Church, told the board he fears that the issue will not stop with liquor by the drink sales for the county and he urged the commissioners to stand on their principles and not allow a vote to happen.
“In 2011, 123 communities passed Sunday sales for alcohol. It will not stop with liquor by drink. The next thing you know we will have liquor stores, then places to go for honky-tonks. It never does stop,” said Hemphill. “Our whole country is falling apart and no one is stopping anything. As Christian leaders you have a right to stand on what you believe. You are elected and you have a platform. People vote for you and I encourage you to stand on your beliefs and principals.”
Upon request by former Commission Chairman Glenn Collins, current Chairman Rusty Blackston stated that if the board called for a liquor by the drink referendum, it would cost the county between $6,000-$8,000. Collins noted he had checked with authorities at the City of Thomaston and they stated the amount of money they collected in taxes in 2012 from the establishments that serve liquor is $6,303.98 which equaled 1/10th of one percent of their annual budget. He continued saying that revenue came from nine restaurants, three of which shut down during the year due to the fact it was not profitable.
Collins also asked if this were to go to a vote and pass, would it be just for restaurants or would it include things such as liquor stores. District Three Commissioner Ralph Ellington, who called for the town hall meeting, stated that he would like to see it modeled after the ordinance the city has, which is just for restaurants.
Mountain View Baptist pastor, Dr. Rex King, told the board the best way he could sum up this situation was to quote his favorite law enforcement agent, Barney Fife.
“We need to ‘nip this in the bud’,” said King as the crowd joined in to complete the famous phrase. “The majority is not always right. We are told this will bring industry - we need jobs, yes - but like Brother Dean said earlier tonight if we put God first, the rest of this will follow.”
However, not everyone felt the same as those previously mentioned did. George Carriker was the first to speak in favor of the issue going to a vote by the public.
“I don’t drink liquor. I hardly even drink beer, but I think each person in the county should be able to cast a vote to say if they want liquor by the drink in the county or not,” he said. Carriker noted that he also spoke with Police Chief Dan Greathouse to find out if there was a large increase in alcohol-related incidents since the city passed their ordinance, however he was told research would have to be done to determine that. “That told me one thing, there was nothing that could show there was a big jump since they got alcohol in the city… I can only encourage this board, if you don’t do anything else, let the people vote. Not you, but the people.”
Bill Maher agreed with Carriker and stated he felt the point was being missed that evening, which was to allow every person in the community to have a voice in the ballot box.
“We have a right in this county and in this country to choose. I have heard an awful lot of statistics about drunken driving and everything else, but what I haven’t seen on Highways 19, 36 or 74 is a gate that keeps people who went to Griffin, Barnesville or Macon and drank too much from coming in our highways,” said Maher. “We cannot control that nor can we legislate morality or way of thinking.”
At the close of the meeting, each of the commissioners addressed their stance on the issue. Commissioners Wilder, Hudson and Ellington are for the issue going to a vote by the people, while Commissioner Spraggins and Chairman Blackston are against it. Commissioner Ellington had the following to say about the issue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have talked about this in Upson County for as long as I can remember. To me this whole dealing and situation is not whether anyone drinks or doesn’t drink. It is about the public’s right to vote for something that is important to the community. I could care less whether it passes or doesn’t pass, but I feel like every Thomastonian should have the opportunity to go to the poles and vote yes or no. That’s the bottom line.”
The Board of Commissioners plan to vote at their February 26 meeting whether or not the decision will go to the poles.