The original alcohol ordinance, drafted by former Cave City Police Chief Aaron Presser, was introduced in December before a packed house of local residents, pastors and others, most who opposed Sharp County becoming wet in the November election. While a motion to pass the ordinance was voted on, the council decided that the lengthy ordinance should be read in its entirety, a process that took 41 minutes. Many audience members left during the reading thinking its passage was just a technicality and the ordinance would be passed at the meeting. While the council did vote to pass the ordinance on a first reading, council members did not agree to pass the ordinance by reading its title only on two additional readings needed for it to become law.
While the council could have passed the original ordinance at the January meeting, Alderman Richard Hawkins explained that the delay gave him time to get an opinion on the city ordinance from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, which confirmed his fears that the city ordinance was too restrictve and overstepped alcohol sales regulations already in place by the ABC and state laws.
"It is not that I am against the ordinance, I am all for controlling it (alcohol sales) to the maximum allowed by law." Hawkins explained. Hawkins said he made a trip to Little Rock to meet with ABC Chairman Mickey Powell and Director Mike Langley. After reviewing the ordinance, they told him, "It was not worth the paper it was written on." Hawkins explained. adding that Langley warned, "It was full of lawsuits and full of a lot of bad stuff and said mostly the good stuff in here is already state law and they have to abide by their ABC permit." Hawkins and the ABC representatives went through the original ordinance page by page and marked up the discrepancies that could lead to legal challenges of the city ordinance.
At Hawkins' request, the ABC officials gave advice on a new ordinance that only includes things the city can legally regulate without going above state laws or ABC regulations. The drastically trimmed down ordinance is only a page and a half, compared to the original 21 page draft proposed by Presser.
Hawkins said, after writing a revised ordinance, he faxed a copy to the ABC board, and the director sent it back with the words, "Like it," written on the top. Hawkins made a motion the ordinance be read in its entirey and voted on. He then opened up the floor for discussion.
One recommendation made by City Attorney Jerry Post, was to clarify some verbage in the ordinance in a sentence that states, "...the fine to be set by the ABC Division." Post suggested it state, "... the fines to be set by the Arkansas Code," before moving forward with the vote. He explained the Arkansas statute (that is passed by the legislature) sets fines. The ABC Division assesses fines but they are defined and set by state law and ABC enforces the law by making a decision on what an appropriate fine might be for a before a particular offense. Post said he felt this clarity in wording would be beneficial to the ordinance.
Hawkins then updated his motion to include the revised sentence and also asked the ordinance, which has three main parts, be read in its entirety.
Under the ordinance, those who own an establishment that sells any type of alcohol, whether it is beer and wine or a full fledged liquor store, will be charged a city permit fee which is 50 percent of the fee charged by the ABC Board. Fees that the ABC charges for licenses vary, depending on whether the business is an offsite or on site business that sells just beer and wine, as opposed to a complete liquor store which offers all types of liquor. State fees do not exceed $425, which means the city could not exceed $212.50 for the highest of the licenses.
The second restriction limits the hours of sale from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., with no Sunday sales allowed. The 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours are a bit more stringent than Highland's hours, which left the ABC's suggested hours of sale, 7 a.m. to midnight, in place. ABC Chairman Powell, who attended the council meeting, offered clarification, explaining restaurants and private clubs are allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday, but retail off premise retailers cannot sell on Sundays. Audience members were given an opportunity to ask questions of Powell for clarification. One resident asked if the city could abolish sales by restaurants and private clubs, and it was the opinion of both Post and Powell that that was not an option. Residents can, at some point, seek enough signatures to get a wet-dry vote just for Cave City, to allow city residents to vote on whether to continue general alcohol sales.
The final portion of the ordinance is aimed at insuring the businesses opting to sell alcohol are well lit. The ordinance states, "It shall be a requirement that any and all businesses that post an alcohol permit have adequate lighting for the entire exterior of the building and for the entire property designated for the business. This includes entire parking lots, sidewalks, alleyways, etc. In the event that dark areas are found to be present it will be left to the judgment of the City Council to require that more lighting be installed."
After reading and passing the alcohol sales ordinance, the council went on to have a lengthy budget discussion. While the 2013 city budget was passed, Alderman Jonas Anderson indicated it will take work to stick to the budget, "I think there will certainly need to be some changes made to get our general fund finances on a firmer footing, and I will try to help do that in the most responsible way we can."
Before ending the nearly 4-hour meeting, Alderman Ron Burge was appointed by the council as Mayor, filling the position created by the Jan. 4 death of Mayor Daniel Wilson. During the meeting, a plaque was presented during an emotional ceremony to Wilson's family, in honor of the Mayor's service and dedication to the city.
The Cave City Council meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Cave City City Hall. The public is always welcome to attend these meetings.