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Bryan County puts Sunday alcohol sales to voters

POSTED: February 18, 2014 9:30 p.m.

The Bryan County Board of Commissioners will let voters decide in November whether they want to buy alcohol on Sunday in unincorporated parts of the county.
At their regular meeting at the County Administrative Complex, commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to hold a referendum on whether the county’s retail businesses should be able to sell alcohol on Sunday.
Commissioners Noah Covington, Wade Price and Steve Myers voted in favor, while commissioners Jimmy Henderson and Carter Infinger voted no. The action came shortly after Henderson and Infinger voted in favor of a 3-2 failed motion by Henderson to keep Sunday sales off the ballot.
“I just want to say Bryan County has been incorporated probably 200 years now and has gotten along quite well without it,” Henderson said. “People who want to indulge — and I have no problem if they do — they have the other six days of the week to get it. I’m worried about the consequences we might have if we put it on the ballot.”
Henderson’s motion came after two local religious leaders spoke out against the proposal. Both the Rev. Clarence Jackson of New Mount Zion Church and Pastor Carlton Cooper of Bethel Baptist said they’d seen the affects alcohol abuse has on families.
“I’m totally opposed to it,” Cooper told commissioners. “I’ve dealt with families and homes that have been broken. I’ve been to hospitals and sat with families while their kids are dying because they were involved in car accidents, hit by a drunk driver. That’s why I stand and I very adamantly opposed the approval of this position.”
But Price noted the vote only puts the matter up for a vote.
If passed in November, the measure would apparently affect slightly more than a dozen stores in the unincorporated parts of the county. But Infinger said he’s heard no outcry for Sunday sales from the business community.
“I’ve only heard of one store owner who is for it,” he said. “It’s not fair to the businesses that may not want to be open. You’re going to force people to open their doors on Sundays who may not want to be open, but their competitors are, so they feel they have to.”
Covington, who made the motion to put Sunday sales on the ballot, said he understood both sides of the argument and respected those who were opposed to Sunday sales on moral grounds.
“(But) I am in favor of putting it on the ballot and allowing the people to decide,” he said, noting most businesses in South Bryan are in the city limits of Richmond Hill. “But in the north end of the county, we actually have more convenience stores and grocery stores outside city limits, and it is important to these businesses.
“When they’re near the county line and people are going right next door to get it rather than shop at home, it affects them.”
Covington said the county also is sending a mixed message to businesses.
“We keep calling ourselves a business-friendly community and we want to promote that. But in this case, rather than allowing residents to shop at home, those who choose (to buy alcohol on Sunday) have to go outside the county,” he said. “It’s not a matter of whether people choose to use it or not. It’s a matter of letting them have the choice to decide whether they can buy it.”
It wasn’t clear whether Ashley Thompson, the Black Creek store owner who in January asked the county to look into Sunday sales, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
But Pastor Cooper said allowing the sale of alcohol on Sunday was “really a desecration of the day we have said is to be a day of worship. Regardless of what our faith is or what our belief might be, it’s a day of worship.”
“Is there not anything holy and pure any more?” he asked commissioners, then, before sitting down, thanked them for listening.
“I know your jobs are not easy,” Cooper said. “If it was, everybody would do it. But you still have that responsibility, so I respectively ask you to deny this and please let’s not put this on the ballot.”
Chairman Jimmy Burnsed thanked both pastors for taking the time to share their thoughts on the topic. It’s not clear how the referendum will be worded, but Burnsed seemed to think the debate over the issue will be lively.
“It’s certainly going to be an interesting discussion,” he said.
The state ended its ban on Sunday alcohol sales in 2011, though counties and cities can continue to ban such sales if they wish.
Richmond Hill voters approved liquor by the drink on Sundays in the city’s restaurants in 2008 despite efforts by Cooper and others to defeat the measure, but the city has yet to look at putting Sunday retail sale of alcohol on the ballot.
Bryan County voters approved liquor by the drink on Sundays in unincorporated areas in 2010.

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