SNELLVILLE - City council members Monday debated the issue of whether they had the legal authority to amend Snellville's alcohol ordinance to allow Sunday sales of alcohol or if the issue must be decided by referendum, but the motion died after a tie vote.
Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer brought up the hotly debated topic by placing it on the council's regular meeting agenda, saying that he felt he would be "voted down" but had to try anyway to amend the ordinance.
"The residents did approve (Sunday sales) in 2004. The ordinance was online for 8 months," and residents had that long to review it, according to the mayor.
"This is about business and economics," said Oberholtzer. Councilman Tod Warner, who sided with the mayor and agreed that Sunday sales of alcohol within city limits simply would allow Snellville restaurants to compete with those just over the line at The Avenue and in other areas said, "The basic issue here is freedom and about giving city businesses the ability to compete."
Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bender agreed with Warner.
"In 2004, I was one of the majority" who voted in support of liquor by the drink and Sunday sales of alcohol.
During her campaign for a council seat, Bender said that though she never brought the issue up before voters, many residents implored her to help change city law to allow Sunday sales.
Councilman Warren Auld and Council woman Kelly Kautz both argued that Snellville council members do not have the legal authority to simply amend the ordinance to allow Sunday sales. Both attorneys, Kautz and Auld said the matter would have to be addressed in a citywide referendum to be done properly.
Kautz also pointed out that a referendum would cost the city about $10,000, and before a referendum is called, she would want City Manager Russell Treadway to find that $10,000 in the city's budget.
Auld said the bigger issue is one of economic development and called for the formation of a Snellville Development Committee, a voluntary advisory group of business people that would be tasked with growing the city's economy.
The two also accused Oberholtzer of political posturing because this is an election year.
Councilman Robert Jenkins weighed in on the matter as he has done every year since he first won a council seat in 2003 - vehemently against allowing Sunday sales of alcohol, whether by amendment or referendum. Jenkins also questioned whether restaurants are actually losing business or moving out of the city because of their inability to sell alcohol to patrons on Sunday.
Money or morality?
The council debate took place before a packed house Monday, as is typically the case when alcohol sales is discussed in Snellville. Most residents voiced their opposition to selling alcohol on Sunday, some citing personal experience with addiction and tragedy related to alcohol. Others warned that allowing Sunday sales would be a slippery slope that would lead to liquor stores, adult book stores and prostitution, among other things.
Shirley Harbin said, "If more people would seek the Lord instead of alcohol, the world would be a better place."
A few people in the audience spoke in support of allowing Sunday sales. Margaret van Buren told council members not to blame all drunk driving tragedies on restaurants. Nona Jones, the manager of O'Charley's in Snellville, said that while her business is not dying, it cannot grow without Sunday sales.
Following a 3-3 tie vote, the motion to amend the city's alcohol ordinance died and will not move forward.
Oberholtzer said he may put the item on next month's agenda.