Booze fight to be settled

SNELLVILLE -- After years of fighting and a court battle, Snellville voters could finally bring an end to the city's Sunday liquor debate Tuesday.

This issue has been a hot button issue in Snellville at least as far back as 2004, when in November of that year voters made their desires known with a 1,171 to 1,100 approval of liquor-by-the-drink sales in restaurants.

Although the liquor law passed, several of the City Council members gathered enough council votes to amend the ordinance and remove Sunday sales of liquor by the drink as an option for restaurants inside the city limits. To this day, the question is still debated as to whether the Sunday sales issue was addressed in that ill-fated 2004 election -- it had been in the ordinance before the board but was not specifically mentioned on the ballot.

Since those days of see-sawing ordinances and amendments, several of those same council members were voted off or left voluntarily, and a more business-oriented group now sits in those council seats. Also since 2004, the economy took a nose-dive, and businesses in Snellville and across the state suffered. Many restaurants closed, and others simply relocated to jurisdictions in which Sunday sales of LBTD was allowed.

Fast forward to December 2009.

Just a month after an election brought new members to the council, officials decided that there was at least one thing they could do almost immediately to try to boost restaurant business in the city as well as attract new businesses, and that was to enact Sunday sales of liquor-by-the-drink, using a provision of state law they believed gave them the authority without a vote.

Not so fast. Former councilman Robert Jenkins and a group of seven other residents filed for a temporary restraining order which was eventually granted by Judge Mark Lewis. By that time, seven Snellville restaurants had already applied for Sunday sales licenses. Lewis halted those licenses just days before Super Bowl Sunday.

The city has appealed the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, but officials decided to take a more expedient approach by bringing the issue back before voters.

Now, the two groups are trying to convince voters.

Ken Hood, who was a party to the lawsuit seeking to force a referendum on the issue, has been working with 15 or 20 other people to campaign for a "no" vote.

Like in 2004, they are calling neighbors and encouraging people to go to the polls. This time around, he added, they have met with pastors and church leaders, using church websites and communication to encourage people to vote against allowing liquor by the drink on the Lord's Day.

"I know it's just one day, but anything we can do might save a family, might save a household, might save a life," Hood said. "We're going to fight it as long as we can."

On the other side of the issue, The Committee for a Better Snellville, a grassroots organization formed in late May with one goal in mind -- to get out the "Yes" vote. Jamie Dempsey, president of Moosehead Marketing Solutions and a hopeful future owner of a neighborhood Irish pub in either Snellville or Loganville, says the issue is not just about alcohol.

"It's about whether the government has the right to tell us what to do. We're talking about a legal substance here," said Dempsey. "We're not talking about promoting getting drunk on Sunday here. If you have a problem with drinking on Sunday, don't do it."

There are those in the city who have said that the matter all boils down to whether you're a Christian.

"I want to make this very clear. I am a Christian. I am a devout Christian. This is not an issue that needs to be debated in religion or morality," Dempsey said. "It's simple economics."

Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer has long been a proponent of Sunday sales in Snellville, citing the economic well-being of the city as his top reason. He has often blamed political posturing and game-playing for the debacle that's been played out over the last six years. The Catholic mayor has even gone so far as to say that the issue is about some residents trying to impose their religious views on others.

Senior Writer Camie Young contributed to this report.