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Liquor vote poses questions in city

If Brookhaven voters rally behind legal liquor sales during a June 4 referendum, some murkiness may remain as to how city leaders will proceed.

In the event of a successful referendum vote for alcohol, aldermen would be faced with the task of drafting an ordinance governing those alcohol sales and with deciding whether to allow package stores or restrict alcohol to by-the-glass sales in restaurants.

But that prompts a question: which aldermen?

Following the June 4 general elections, incumbent aldermen will sit for one more meeting before their time in office ends and new terms, with some new faces at the table, begin July 1.

City attorney Joe Fernald said the outgoing board would be able to vote and approve an ordinance governing the sale of liquor within the city

“They would have the authority to do whatever they wanted to do as of the next board meeting,” Fernald said.

Outgoing Mayor Les Bumgarner – who is not seeking re-election – offered some clear advice to incumbents.

“I think the next board should deal with that,” Bumgarner said.

At least one alderman won’t be returning to his seat. Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell is running for mayor rather than pursuing re-election to his current office. He’ll be replaced by Fletcher Grice.

At least three incumbents are returning to office: Mary Wilson of Ward Three, Terry Bates of Ward Two and Shirley Estes of Ward Four.

Incumbents in Ward One, Ward Six and the alderman at large seat still face contested elections.

Bumgarner believes that candidates beginning a new term, incumbents and newcomers to the board alike, will be in the best position to enact what they feel is the will of the voters.

Also, he said the issues may require more time to deliberate on than a June vote would allow for.

“I think it will take some time,” Bumgarner said.

Fernald offered a similar opinion and speculated that the current board would pass over the chance to push something through in the last weeks of their term.

“I would think the board would deem it best to wait,” he said.

Given that the incoming board will be in office during the implementation and enforcement of any potential liquor ordinances, Fernald feels the most consistent option would be to allow that board to draft the ordinance

The city attorney also echoed the mayor regarding the brevity of discussion a June vote would require.

He said drafting an ordinance will require decisions about zoning, permitting and application procedures.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control division has offered to assist the city in drafting the ordinance and to ensure it complies with state regulations, Fernald said.

Regardless of any assistance, city leaders will still have to contend with what Fernald described as Mississippi’s complicated liquor laws.

A questionnaire distributed by The Daily Leader to municipal candidates asked aldermen and mayoral candidates to state whether they would back a restriction to on-site consumption or prefer to allow package stores.

Of eight responses by aldermen candidates surviving the May 7 primaries, four backed a restriction to by-the-glass sales and four declined to state a clear preference.

None of the surviving candidates openly supported package stores.

Of four responses by mayoral candidates, two voiced support for by-the-glass sales, one candidate endorsed package stores and another did not state a preference.

The mayor doesn’t have a vote at the board but does have veto power.

While stressing that it’s not mandatory, Fernald also said a public hearing on the subject might be a helpful gesture.

“I don’t think it hurts to have people both pro and con come and say what their concerns are,” he said. “The decision should not be made in a vacuum. Information has never hurt us.”

One issue remains unclear though. Once aldermen have adopted an ordinance governing alcohol sales, can they – or another board in the future – amend it later?

Can a restriction to by-the-glass sales, for example, later be revised to allow package stores?

Kathy Waterbury, spokesperson for the Department of Revenue, which includes Alcoholic Beverage Control, couldn’t answer that question.

After reviewing the issue, she described the law as silent on the matter.

“There is no discussion of amending the ordinance once adopted,” she said. “That is new territory.”