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Residents denounce beer sales
They want 300-foot distance kept in place
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A lack of a quorum prevented any votes from taking place during Tuesday night’s McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. Items on the agenda will be heard Oct. 28.
In attendance were Aldermen Ken Smith, Mike Neal and Jimmy Bonner. Absent were Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman, and Aldermen Billy Wood and Rick Barnes.
On the night’s agenda was a vote to amend an ordinance deleting this sentence from city code, “No sale or distribution of beer shall be at places within 300 feet of any school, public or private, kindergarten or churches.”
Stirring the controversy was that the four absent officials were the same four who voted in favor of striking the 300-foot distance on Sept. 23.
The trio of “no” votes were not alone during Tuesday’s meeting. Visitors spoke out against removing the distance restriction that would allow beer to be sold closer to schools and churches.
Locust Street Church of God pastor Jeff Page urged the board to not make the change for the pursuit of money.
“I would like to thank you guys, Mr. Bonner, Mr. Smith and Mr. Neal, for your stand,” said Page. “As the Bible describes, ‘The love of money is the root of all evil.’ We don’t need to put this in the guise of removing an ordinance because everybody knows what this is. We have a couple of places that want to sell alcohol because it might bring us a little money. We are going to affect churches all over the city just to gain a couple places that can sell alcohol and maybe get a little money.”
A former alderman, Charles Bogle, praised the aldermen for their stance against it.
“I realize we don’t have the rest of the board here but I still wanted to come forward and let you know how much we appreciate your stance,” said Bogle. “This may not be popular with some folks, but I can assure you that if you go out and talk to the people on the street, you will find there are more people supporting you than you know about. All I can do is urge you to continue to take the stance you are taking.”
Warren County Commissioner David Rhea would rather the city’s distance restriction match that of the county and state.
“McMinnville is dear to me and my issue is the 300-foot distance the city is trying to take away from us,” said Rhea. “The state of Tennessee is 3,000 feet. Warren County is 3,000 feet. If you leave it up to me, I think the city should be 3,000 feet, but 300 feet is OK. It’s what you have and I would hope and pray you guys would honor that for the youth of our community, our churches and our schools. I just don’t understand why removing it was even mentioned.”
Prompting the measure was a recommendation from the Alcoholic Beverage Board, also called the Beer Board, to city board members to consider making one of two changes to the policy: taking away the church distance requirement for the sale of beer, or defining a church as “an entity which has been designated by the IRS as a 501(c)3 church.”
The Beer Board has received beer permit requests from businesses on Main Street. Located within 300 feet of Oasis Fellowship, the requests were rejected. The fellowship is not considered a 501(c)3 church, which prompted the board’s recommendation to the city to consider one of two options.
Robert Christian says he has suffered two devastating losses and wants the restriction left in place.
“I am very, very concerned about liquor, period,” said Christian. “I’ve lost two children because of drunk drivers. I oppose this. I really oppose it. I know Jimmy. I used to be Jimmy’s pastor years ago. I appreciate those who are standing against this. Let’s do the right thing. I don’t think we need that money that bad. I really don’t.”
Smith thanked those in attendance for their encouraging words and offered a few of his own.
“I would like to encourage everyone to come out in two weeks. I feel curtain there will a quorum in two weeks time. I think that will be the best time for you to be heard among the individuals who have a different opinion than the three of us up here.”
While Bonner made no comments, Neal read a written statement.
“I would like to thank those who came tonight and expressed your concerns regarding this issue either by your attendance or by your statements whether you support or oppose the beer proposal. This is a country based on freedom of speech and not only the speech we may agree with,” Neal said. “With that being said I want those who are on either side of this issue to know that I understand your concerns.”
Neal says a supporter of removing the distance requirement offered him this scenario: A property owner has plans to open up a business and serve beer. His neighbor learns of his plan and he writes the word “church” on the window of his building and invites one of two people to meet there randomly for the sole purpose of halting his neighbor’s plans. Despite making a sizeable investment, the business owner now cannot serve beer.
“I am not opposed to offering some support and protections for these types of good-faith investments. However, this is not the issue we are considering now,” said Neal.
The majority of city residents do not want this ordinance changed, says Neal.
“I realize every ordinance we make may affect someone in a negative way, but I believe we are obligated to listen to our citizens and follow the wishes of what we perceive is the majority in these matters. I cannot justify trying to satisfy a few at the displeasure of so many on this issue so I will continue to stand in opposition to changing this ordinance,” he said.
The next meeting of the board is Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. While a request has been made to change the venue from City Hall to the Civic Center to accommodate more people, a decision on that has not been made.