City doesn’t OK referendum to allow vote on Sunday alcohol sales

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011

There were arguments both for and against whether or not Bainbridge should allow Sunday alcohol sales at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, but the council ultimately took no action on a resolution to put the question to voters.
A 2011 Georgia law allows local governments to hold referendums on whether package sales and by-the-drink service should be allowed within their jurisdiction on Sundays. Previously, state law prohibited Sunday sales except in cities with large populations, who were permitted to set their own rules.

Councilman Dean Burke made a motion to approve a resolution to hold the required referendum; however, the motion died for lack of a second.

Kenneth Pearce, a Decatur County resident who had asked to be placed on the council’s agenda, gave several reasons he supported Sunday alcohol sales. In Pearce’s view, Sunday sales would boost the economy, eliminate inconveniences to grocery shoppers and allow people engaging in Sunday activities, like watching a football game, to drink in local restaurants instead of going to Florida, where Sunday sales are permitted.

Rev. Paul Medley, the pastor of First Baptist Church, said the majority of the Decatur County Ministerial Association opposed Sunday alcohol sales. According to Medley, the reason some big-name chain restaurants choose not to come to Decatur County has nothing to do with alcohol; rather, it’s due to the businesses’ belief that there is not enough people and traffic to support them. Finally, Medley made a moral appeal, saying that ministers and government leaders had a duty to set moral and religious examples to young people.

Rev. Randy Mosley, the pastor of First United Methodist Church, made a similar appeal to the council.
“People who want to drink have six days out of the week to make their purchases,” Mosley said. “Help us hold onto what little we have left of the Sabbath as Protestants in the faith.”

Chuck Reeves, the general manager of a local restaurant, said he didn’t see Sunday alcohol sales as having a negative impact on the morals of the community.

“We don’t want it seen like we are trying to turn Bainbridge into Las Vegas,” Reeves said. “We just want to let the people have a vote.”

The City Council could reconsider a resolution to hold a referendum at a future date; however, the referendum has to be held in conjunction with a major election set by the Georgia Secretary of State. The deadline to have issues placed on this November’s general election has already passed; if the council had approved a resolution on Tuesday, the next available date to hold the referendum would have been the presidential primary election in March, per election officials.

However, the council’s decision not to act on Tuesday may mean March is no longer a possibility. According to City Manager Chris Hobby, if the council were to pass a resolution to take a vote, an attorney would have to draw up language for two separate ballot questions: one on whether to allow Sunday package sales; and another on whether to allow Sunday by-the-drink service. Then the ballot questions would be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance, a process that could take up to 60 days.