Nearly 10 months after the first reading of Upson County’s new liquor sales ordinance, the Board of Commissioners still do not have an ordinance ready for enactment, and the length of time it has taken is beginning to show. At their October 8 work session, commissioners heard concerns about how the distances between churches and stores will be measured from Building and Zoning Director Doug Currier. Commissioner Steve Hudson and County Manager Jim Wheeless were absent.
Following Currier’s initial remarks, Commissioner Frank Spraggins expressed his frustration at the time it has taken the county to develop the ordinance.
“Mr. Chairman, how long have we been dragging our feet on this ordinance? We’ve messed up so many ordinances because we didn’t deal with our attorney first,” Spraggins said. “I think our attorney needs to check this out, too now. I think we’re doing a fair job, but there is a lot of this stuff that I’m not sure about. I know Doug wasn’t brought into this the way he should have been, but is there anybody else that we need to get in touch with, in case they have something for these ordinances? When we make this decision, we want it to be right and nobody to come up and said ‘I should have been involved. I’ve got this change to make.’”
The Building and Zoning Director’s concern is with language differences between the existing beer and wine ordinance and the new liquor ordinance.
“I have not been really involved, I was just aware that some changes were being made,’ Currier said. “But my office has a very small part of this whole process where we do the measurements of distances from schools and churches. We also put out the signs. So I said maybe I should pay a little more attention to this than I have up until now. I will be happy to go over some of the language to describe what my recommendation is. To be honest, a lot of these changes aren’t because of the new ordinance. It is because of language you have in there that either hasn’t been done that way, or maybe needs to be updated.
“You have inconsistencies when you talk about the grounds,” he continued. “The language needs to be the same so that those of us who have to do the measuring understand what the differences might be.
Whatever the language is, the person with the wheel needs to understand. So we need to be pretty specific. The most direct line door to door means I’m walking across the lawn.
Both Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston and Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder said they thought they had decided on sidewalk to sidewalk, rather than direct line.
County Attorney Paschal English said there has been a lot of talk and discussion, but the board needs to decide what it wants.
“From an attorney’s perspective, we’ve been going back and forth over this thing for a year,” English said. “I’ve got a file at the office this thick just on this ordinance. I’m not to suggesting anyone is to blame for dragging their feet, because one of the things that has been asked is why is there a distinction between churches and other buildings. It is because you voted on there to be and told us to put it in there. There was uniformity about treating churches differently and going to the sanctuary door so there is no dispute.
“There was a lot of talk about measurements and how we are going to do it. Are we going to do it by the roads, by the sidewalks, by the most direct? And when it came to churches, I thought it was pretty well decided for most direct route from door to door. There is no question what you’re talking about- the most direct route between the establishment and the sanctuary door is pretty obvious. You get out there line of sight and go. That is what we understood as attorneys that we were being asked to put in the ordinance. If you want to change it again to make it sidewalk or road, we can do that, but I think the dispute here has to do with the church. At some point, we had discussed a number of popular ways of measuring, all of which are allowable. This whole notion of churches came up as a kind of an afterthought.
“There has been a lot of discussion on this, and we are trying to mirror the wishes of the board. I’m sure the board has spent a lot of time away from these sessions thinking about how they want to do this. So we don’t have a problem correcting this if this is what you want done.”
Commissioner Ralph Ellington said what is in the ordinance now is clear to him.
“Right here in the verbiage it says most direct line of travel on the ground from the front door of the licensed business to the front door of the sanctuary of the church. To me, that is just as plain as the nose on your face – direct line of travel,” Ellington said. “It don’t say direct line of sight, it don’t say through bushes, over the trees and under the ground. It says direct line of travel, which is that portion of the ground that you can travel on. It is that simple.”
Following further discussion, Chairman Blackston urged everyone, including the county attorney, to look at the proposed changes from Currier, and said they would decide on the ordinance at a later date.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.