Oneonta citizens working to legalize alcohol sales

Don’t throw away those alcohol-motivated political signs just yet. Oneonta residents may be staking their stance on the alcohol issue in their front yards again and sooner than some might think.

A movement, headed by the group, A Better Oneonta, to hold an alcohol referendum for the city of Oneonta will be a hot topic in the coming months. A petition to hold the referendum is now being reviewed and is scheduled to be presented to the Oneonta City Council for certification in February, according to Oneonta city manager Ed Lowe. If certified, a call for that referendum may take place as soon as March.

However, as requested by then- District 34 Rep. Elwyn Thomas, Blount County is one of three counties excluded from House Bill 175 which made it legal for municipalities with at least 1000 citizens to hold an alcohol referendum vote specific to their town or city.

Therefore, no municipality in Blount County is able to vote for their city or town to legalize the sale of alcohol.

“We are moving forward as if there if no statute saying we can’t,” said A Better Oneonta member Richard Phillips. “Legalizing the sale of alcohol would not only provide an economic solution for Oneonta, but this situation is paired with a constitutional problem – being denied our right to vote.”

Lisa Wester says it seems Thomas pushed his agenda on the people of Blount County, however, residents must centralize their thoughts on improving this area.

“We need to focus on the growth for this city,” she said. “We have to find a way to draw people here because any good growth for Oneonta is good for the county. If we have bigger businesses moving to Oneonta that opens more job opportunities for those out in the county.”

When Thomas excluded Blount County from HB 175 no wide-scale announcement was made to inform the citizens.

“If they can do it so quietly, we shouldn’t have to kick and scream to get it undone,” Phillips said. “If Oneonta would have voted against going wet we wouldn’t have seen it as justified, but we voted to go wet so there’s not reason not to.”

Keep Blount County Special president and First Baptist of Oneonta pastor Larry Gipson says it is not up to him to decide if excluding Blount County from HB175 is unconstitutional or not, but if the law is changed and Oneonta has another alcohol referendum, he and his group will do the same thing as with past elections. Keep Blount County Special has planned a meeting this Sunday to discuss what they will do about confronting this issue once again, if the need arises.

Gipson says they will also be in contact with this area’s senators and representatives and are hoping to meet with them to discuss his group’s concern over Oneonta legalizing the sale of alcohol.

“I respect and I pray for our mayor and council,” Gipson said. “But, my concerns have to do with what alcohol would bring to this city such as the destruction of the family unit. Our group doesn’t feel selling alcohol is the monetary solution. I disagree with our city going wet, and our group will do whatever we can, in accordance with the law, to keep Oneonta dry.”

Gipson also declared that if Oneonta was able to vote on the issue his group will go from door to door to every person in the city distributing material and telling them to vote no.

Lowe says the call to hold the referendum isn’t the only solution to the surmounting issue.

“The easiest way for this issue to be resolved is for our local representative, David Standridge, to propose an amendment to the existing legislation to remove Blount County from the list of counties that are excluded in HB175,” Lowe said. “We’ve had multiple conversations asking him to help us with this issue.”

After Standridge voiced concern over no official request being filed, Lowe said plans are now being organized to write that request.

Oneonta has already prepared alcohol ordinances and zoning laws. Phillips and Wester say the Oneonta City Council has been overwhelmingly supportive despite whether they personally support the legalization of alcohol or not.

“They are 100 percent behind our right to vote,” Wester said.