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Voters to decide on Sunday sales, new jail

By Walter Geiger Lamar County voters will go to the polls March 19, 2019 to decide if package sales of beer and wine will be allowed on Sunday and $15.5 million in bonds are issued for the construction of a new jail. The county commission agreed to call referendums on both issues at a contentious meeting Nov. 20. The bond referendum for the new jail came first on the agenda. Commission chairman Charles Glass said the jail was the county’s ‘highest priority’ and had been recommended by at least two investigative grand juries. The new facility will be built adjacent to the current jail where the rodeo arena now stands. The commission voted unanimously to call the referendum. Next up was the Sunday sales issue. Glass said the referendum would allow package sales of beer and wine from 12:30 – 11:30 p.m. on Sundays. State law requires the ballot question include distilled spirits but liquor is not in the county code so the local enabling legislation will rule out liquor sales if the referendum passes. The commission and those in attendance were bitterly divided on the issue. Commissioner Nancy Thrash said only one or two people would benefit financially from such sales and additional revenue would be minimal. ‘We have to look at it not from just the religious perspective but as a health and safety issue. We will see an increase in domestic violence and DUI cases. Statistics bear this out. Let’s not lose our moral compass in this county,’ she said. Commissioner Bennie Horton had a differing opinion. ‘I don’t drink, period. But, we can’t take away the opportunity for our citizens to voice their opinion. We are not the judge and jury on this,’ Horton said. Commissioner Ryran Traylor noted he had had multiple calls on the matter. ‘I have personal concerns. Many are for this and some are against it. It is the way of our world. People will continue to gripe about it no matter which way it goes,’ Traylor said. Thrash argued citizens in attendance should have a right to voice their opinions. Glass responded the meeting was not a public hearing and citizens have had months to voice their opinions. He then called for a motion. Horton made the motion to place the matter on the ballot. Commissioner Robert Heiney seconded it. The ensuing vote was 2-2 with Heiney and Horton voting yes and Thrash and Traylor voting no. Glass then voted yes, breaking the tie. ‘Our citizens should have the final word,’ he said. After other relatively mundane issues on the agenda were dealt with, Glass called for public comments from those who had signed up. Randy Vining: Randy Vining of Milner alleged Horton should have recused himself from the vote in that his family business sells alcoholic beverages. ‘I was hoping to speak before the vote. We are not a democracy. We are a republic. We elect you to represent us. Not everything goes up for a vote. Our founders did not want mob rule. You did not allow your constituents to speak and you should be ashamed,’ Vining said. Tracey Alford: Tracey Alford, a Milner businesswoman, said she had done an informal poll there and 114 people voted no with only three yes votes. ‘Do we want to be Spalding County or Macon? I wish you had let us voice our opinions,’ Alford said. Ashley Gilles: Ashley Gilles of Abbott Road asked who started the petition to place the matter on the ballot. The indication was a man who runs a barbecue operation from a trailer started the effort. ‘He is not here tonight because he knew this vote was a done deal,’ Thrash alleged. Gilles asked if those supporting Sunday sales would pay for the special election. Glass replied the county would bear the cost. ‘I am very disappointed this is going on the ballot,’ Gilles concluded. Melissa Cline: Melissa Cline of Country Kitchen Road held the opposing view. ‘I appreciate the fact that y’all think I am adult enough to make my own decision. My father was an abusive alcoholic. He found it on Sunday anyway,’ she said. She scolded others in the audience for their opposition, noting she had been told by some to keep her mouth shut. ‘I feel like I am being told I don’t have enough intelligence to vote on this,’ Cline concluded. Ed Whitelock: Ed Whitelock of Zebulon Street also liked the idea of a referendum. ‘I thank you for voting your hearts and consciences. I support the vote and will respect the result of the vote,’ the Gordon professor said. ’I am very ashamed of this board of commissioners tonight,’ Thrash said, ending the discussion.

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