The county's beer regulations will remain unchanged.
On a vote of seven to seven, the county commission Monday night failed to adopt a motion to reduce the minimum distance requirement from 2,000 feet to 400 feet between stores seeking to sell beer and places of public gathering such as churches and schools.
The 2,000 foot distance regulation is the maximum allowed under state law and it has not been changed since the county adopted it in October 1939. The county has the authority to make the minimum distance something less than 2,000 feet but it cannot be greater than 2,000 feet.
Fourth district commissioner David McDowell made a motion to rescind the minimum 2,000 foot rule and change it to 400 feet, which is the same as the City of Smithville's regulation. Third district member Bradley Hendrix seconded the motion. But the measure failed to muster the eight votes needed for passage.
Commissioners joining McDowell and Hendrix in voting for the proposed change were Jack Barton from the second district, Wayne Cantrell from the fourth district, Jerry Adcock from the fifth district, and Jimmy Poss and Larry Summers both from the seventh district.
Commissioners voting against making the change were Mason Carter and Elmer Ellis, Jr. from the first district, Bobby Joines from the second district, Jerry Scott from the third district, John Green from the fifth district, and Jeff Barnes and Marshall Ferrell from the sixth district.
County Mayor Mike Foster could have voted to break the tie but he chose not to do so saying he did not want to take one side over the other. ‘I feel like its divisive. I'm not afraid to vote and I don't care to vote but I just think its divisive. I think if its this opinionated with seven for and seven against, we have got to work together and if I side with either side then I'm alienating somebody. We've got a good relationship and we work well together and I don't want to jeopardize that,' said Foster.
While he voted in favor of making the change, Adcock said he really didn't like the idea that on-premises beer permits could be issued to businesses as close as 400 feet to schools and churches."I don't object to packaged sales at 400 feet but I do with on-premises usage," said Adcock.
Ferrell said many of his constituents in the sixth district opposed the change. "The people I've had calling me in my district do not want this to happen. They don't want it changed," he said. Ferrell added that he would have prefered this issue be put before the voters in a public referendum.
Before the vote, Bernard Houk, pastor of the Smithville First Free Will Baptist Church spoke out against the proposed change. "I'd like to see it 10,000 (feet). I'm a pastor and I go counsel with people all the time where their husband got drunk, whipped them and left them and all that so I don't see any good in it. I think when you move it from 2,000 feet to anything else, then in a year or two it'll be ‘why don't we reduce that down to somewhere else'? We could always use the argument that the city's is 400 feet. But you can even get around that. Our church is closer than that (400 feet) under that grandfather thing (clause). A grandpa deal got us beer right in our front door at the First Free Will Baptist Church. I don't think its right," said Houk.
Jewel Redmon, owner of Jewel's Market & Pizza on the Cookeville Highway, addressed the commission advocating for the change, especially since it would potentially benefit him. Under the current rules, Redmon cannot obtain a permit to sell beer because his store is within 2,000 feet of the new First Assembly of God on the Cookeville Highway. "Beer is a legal product. No one asks anyone to come in and buy it. Its there. You can go to Kroger, Walmart, or to any big store (and find it) These convenience stores have it to sell as a commodity. Right across the street from my place (Village Market in city limits) they can buy it. My place should have been grandfathered in. It's a whole lot better looking place than it was before. You've got to have the product that people want in order to stay in business. We're not asking nobody to come in and buy it. We're not pushing it. It's a legal product and I'm just asking to be able to sell it," said Redmon.
Redmon added he may be able to sell alcoholic beverages at the store anyway under a state law that authorizes liquor by the drink under the Premiere Resort Act. "That store will qualify for liquor by the drink and beer through the state. It costs us $10,000 a year. So I can get them through the state. I'm not in the business to run a beer joint. I just want a clean, decent convenience market and have a product there that people want," said Redmon.
As WJLE first reported in October, Premier Resort Status can be granted by the state to allow the sale of liquor in specific locations regardless of local restrictions.
Business owners, under certain conditions, can qualify to apply for a liquor license with passage of an amendment by the state legislature making them eligible to sell liquor by the drink under the state's "Premier Tourist Resort Act". Once businesses have that authority from the state, they may apply for a liquor license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. If approved, the license is renewable annually.
The DeKalb County Beer Board, which grants local beer licenses, has no authority over the issuance of liquor licenses by the state.
DeKalb County businesses who currently sell liquor by the drink are the Inn at Evins Mill, the Blue Water Grille at Hurricane Marina, the Fish Lipz restaurant at Pates Ford Marina, and the Company Store near Cove Hollow.
Others who have the authority to apply are Maggie's Landing on Highway 70 at Snow Hill and the restaurant at Sligo Marina.