The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen Monday night continued discussions on developing an ordinance regulating the sale of liquor from retail package stores in Smithville. No ordinance has yet been prepared but city officials are using the Mount Juliet and Madisonville ordinances as a model for Smithville.
City attorney Vester Parsley had hoped to have provided the aldermen a couple of sample ordinances for their review by now, but he said Monday night that he doesn't want to rush into it and prefers consulting with officials of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission to clarify some issues before proceeding further. "One of the reasons we're not getting in a big hurry is because we want to make sure that we get things right and we have it (ordinance) so that the Alcohol Beverage folks don't reject our "Notice of Compliance". But we haven't been able to talk to them (ABC officials). Hopefully, I'll have a rough draft (ordinance) at the next meeting which would set out how we're going to have liquor stores established in the city" said Parsley.
While liquor licenses can only be issued by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the city has the authority to develop local guidelines for applicants. For example, the city may establish minimum distance requirements between liquor stores and churches, schools, etc. The aldermen may also regulate the size of stores in terms of square footage; impose residency requirements for applicants; and limit the number of licensed liquor stores that may operate within the city.
Aldermen have said they would like the minimum distance requirement between liquor stores and churches, schools, etc. to be the same as the city's beer ordinance requirement of 400 feet. During Monday night's meeting, aldermen expressed a desire to establish a residency requirement for applicants of five years as a city resident or five years as a county resident. The proposed ordinance will also most likely require that applicants be U.S. citizens.
Parsley said while the city can establish minimum store size square footage requirements, he wants to find out if ABC officials have their own rules on that issue. "Some (cities) don't have a square footage (requirement) while others do. Mount Juliet has a 3,000 square foot requirement. We felt like 1,500 square feet was adequate. I don't see anything in the statute (state law) that is required by the state for the size but we want a clarification on that because sometimes these regulatory boards approve things that are not actually in the statute," said Parsley.
Aldermen also want to know from ABC whether there are minimum store inventory requirements.
Where the aldermen seem to differ is on whether the city should limit the number of liquor stores that are allowed to operate in the City of Smithville. Both Aldermen Josh Miller and Shawn Jacobs want limits. The other three aldermen, Gayla Hendrix, Danny Washer, and Jason Murphy have indicated they don't favor establishing limits so as to allow the free market of supply and demand to dictate.
"One thing that was said in the workshop (last month) was that it would work itself out. It might and it might not. Of course, I've got my opinion and ya'll have ya'lls. But I would love to see a limit. I'm going to be in the minority. That's fine," said Alderman Miller.
"Some places do have a limit and some don't. I think probably the public will determine how many we have (free market). Finances will have a lot to do with that too. You're talking about a pretty large initial investment especially if you have to build a building or even renovating a building," Parsley responded.
"Like Josh said I believe we are in the minority but I do agree (with him) and would personally like to see a limit. We don't limit other businesses but this is a unique business. It has a lot of restrictions on it already imposed by the state and the ABC and there is a reason those restrictions are there because of the uniqueness of this kind of business. It's just like driving. It's not a right, it's a privilege. I think that we should be very circumspect in the way we handle this and I do applaud you guys because I know you're trying to do that," said Alderman Jacobs.
"Most places who have restrictions, it puts a big burden on them to make sure their application process is not flawed by some sort of favoritism given to one person over another. Mount Juliet (which has a limit) does it sort of on a first person filed who is in compliance gets it. We don't know how many people are going to apply (here) because it is going to be an expensive proposition," Parsley replied.
"I would certainly agree that it should be first come, first served. I think that's the only way to do it if you're in compliance. That is the way to handle it," added Alderman Jacobs.
Parsley said he and Mayor Jimmy Poss and City Administrator Hunter Hendrixson plan to have discussions with ABC officials soon and that he expects to draft a proposed ordinance for the Aldermen to review by the next meeting in February.
Once an ordinance is adopted, persons may apply. Even if there is a limit on the number of stores that may operate, there would be no limit on applications. Applicants would be subject to criminal background checks by the city attorney and police chief, which could take up to 30 days. After background checks are completed, applications would be reviewed by the Board of Aldermen, which would be the city's liquor board. Certificates of compliance would be issued by the city to those who qualify, a process which could take up to sixty days. The certificates of compliance would then be forwarded by the applicants to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has its own requirements for applicants to meet.