Thursday, December 11, 2014

Watkinsville City Council wastes $3,500.00 on repeat liquor referendum

Let me say, for the record, I have nothing but the highest admiration for all public servants, especially those who I have run against and lost to in local elections. That much said, it is still my duty I feel to point out differences that I may have with the official political position of the local government, and still be friends when we see each other at the store or the post office or the church.

I even share a modicum of blame for this by urging the City to let the Oconee County Board of Elections office take over the Official Election duties several years ago. If the City of Watkinsville still counted ballots by hand and still had the actual ballots, then a recount of the November 2014 results would be possible. The following is not meant as an indictment of the City Clerk or anyone else, but given the double jeopardy political reality we are now looking at, a critical look is certainly warranted. 

In a special election in the near future (probably March), registered voter residents of the City of Watkinsville will return to their polling place and for a second time shall vote to determine whether liquor by the drink shall be allowed in area restaurants in 2015, despite having overwhelmingly passed the county-wide referendum in the most recent General Election.

In the most recent election where I was thumped by Mike Link for umpteenth re-election to the  City Council, the retired firefighter had gone to each of the local polling places and received a very accurate tally of the actual Election Day votes in our race before they had even been returned to the Board of Elections (which is shady and highly unethical enough on its own) but he also had an accurate gauge of the 2-to-1 tally to allow liquor-by-the-drink in all Oconee County restaurants, including those in the municipalities. 

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Despite the claim there are no ways to determine the votes, I would think that this would accentuate the need to make sure each voter is given some kind of receipt proving they actually voted. Also a tally based on who did or did not vote in the City of Watkinsville Post 5 election as a highly accurate guide. However, it is possible that voters could have voted in the City Council race and not voted in the first liquor by the drink referendum, and vice-versa, as many people never complete ballot, especially on local races and referenda.

I understand why the City has opted to do this to the tune of $3,500.00 tax payer dollars, but I do not agree with their rationale. It was somewhat ironic that this unadvertised vote would come during the same meeting where most of the local purveyors of beer and wine appeared to receive their annual approval without the vote or support or questioning or participation of City Council member Mike Link. He did not even bother raising his vote in defiance of the otherwise unanimous decisions of the Watkinsville City Council on this particular Wednesday evening.

We did contingency passing of all the beer and wine places except Girasoles because they were not there. Link did not vote for any including Mirko Pasta, Jack's Food Mart, or Golden Pantry. The city will require quarterly form filling out signifying compliance with the ratios set by the city.

Patrick Lang, co-owner of Chops & Hops, got the thumbs up on a pet hotel next door to the Oconee Leader newspaper at 48 Greensboro Highway called Pawliday Inn. He expressed thanks to the Mayor for working with the business leaders and just wanted to compete with other area restaurants.

Looks like he will have to wait another three months to pour a mixed liquor drink.

Seems like an unnecessary burden to me.

Below are pictures of Mike Link not voting for beer and wine licenses at the City Council meeting Wednesday, December 10, 2014.



At the very, very least, the vote last night for the second liquor by the drink referendum should have been front and center on the public agenda (if not advertised), giving supporters and detractors alike an equal opportunity to prepare and organize. As it was, some restaurant supporters stuck around and spoke to the council, letting the council members know they appreciated the fact that they are working with the restaurant community, some who live in the city limits, others like Chops & Hops Patrick Lang who does not.

Several recent examples of why this is amounts to a polling equivalent of double jeopardy will be demonstrated below. Initially the City of Watkinsville under Mayor Jim Luken approved beer and wine in restaurants with City Council approval and without a referendum and before the County of Oconee through the Board of Commissioners followed suit eight years ago. 

Liquor is a horse of another color. State law (supposedly) specifically dictates municipalities must hold referendums supposedly, but I am reasonably sure there are statutes against having the same referendum on consecutive elections and at the very least, I think the local government has shown its incompetence and opened itself up to all kinds of litigation including injunctions and other legal remedies. I think the route that the City of Watkinsville took in trying to invoke a special election for a decision already made is wrong, absurd, disturbing, worthy of recall, and not in the best interests of the city or the electorate. It reeks of cronyism and poor planning, and something is not right about the entire process. It is, at the very least, embarrassing and a huge waste of time and money.

It passed in the county, and we are part of the county, and it really is that simple. It is a binding referendum, and it applies to municipalities and the unincorporated areas of the county. Cheddar's will be the first restaurant to serve liquor by the drink. Chops & Hops may indeed be the second or third or fifth restaurant once the City of Watkinsville gets done covering their asinine mistake or forcing us back to the polls in attempt to get a small minority to turn out to vote against it.

Now I think it is legal to word a referendum to opt out of a county wide decision, but I would remind people of the precedent set with the onset of Prohibition (18th Amendment) and the enforcement of Volstead Act, which was not a constitutional amendment like the law that eventually outlawed prohibition is (21st Amendment to the United States Constituion).

Making Watkinsville voters return to the polls to pass something they passed already is an undue burden, a waste of time as well as resources. I hope voters will turn out and pass it again if they have to, but the City Council and the Mayor erred in approving this ridiculous repeat referendum.  It will make the City look like fools.
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