Posted by : Karon Monday, March 24, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - Oneonta residents will get a chance Super Sale June 3 to vote on whether they want to allow alcohol sales in their city and Blountsville could soon set a date for a referendum on the issue in that city too.

The referendums are made possible by a Blount County judge's Nov. 1 ruling that struck down a portion of a 2009 state law that lowered the population requirements for hold wet/dry referendums from 7,000 down to 1,000. The judge said that law, however, unconstitutionally excluded Oneonta and other cities in Blount, Clay and Randolph counties from holding votes.

In his ruling, Blount County Circuit Court Judge Steven King struck down the law's offending language that had excluded the three counties, but left the remainder of the statute intact.

Two Blount County pastors are appealing King's ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court. Lawyers for both sides have been filing briefs and counter-briefs in the case.

Ed Lowe, city manager of Oneonta, said the city has scheduled the referendum to be held on the same day as the June 3 party primaries. He said the law requires the vote to be held on the same day as another election.

Alethea Bailey, town clerk of Blountsville, said the town's council received a petition at its March 17 meeting to hold a referendum. She said the petition is now with the county's board of registrars to confirm the petition's signers are registered voters. If confirmed, the town would then set a referendum date.

According to Alabama law, upon petition of 25 percent of the number of voters in the last preceding general election of the municipality the governing body must call a municipal option election "to determine the sentiment of the people as to whether or not alcoholic beverages can be legally sold or distributed in said municipality."

Officials with two other Blount County with populations over 1,000, Locust Fork and Cleveland, have said they have not yet been presented with petitions.

"We have not had anybody ask us about starting a petition," said Cleveland Mayor Jerry Jones. "We have not received the first call."

Cleveland and several other Blount County towns had intervened on the side of Oneonta in the lawsuit that led to King's ruling.

Jones and officials with other towns said had voted to intervene in the lawsuit to preserve the towns' residents the right to vote and had nothing to do with whether the towns support alcohol sales.

Eric Johnston, an attorney representing two Oneonta pastors who oppose alcohol sales, said that the towns are free to hold referendums, but the businesses that might sell alcohol as a result of successful "wet" votes could risk losing their alcohol licenses, and their investments, if the Alabama Supreme Court rules in their favor.

Johnston said they argue that the judge couldn't just lop off the exclusion for the three counties and have the remainder of the law still be valid. He said they argue the entire law for towns of 1,000 or more is unconstitutional.

If the Alabama Supreme Court rules the law is unconstitutional, the law would revert back to the previous version for cities over 7,000. It would also mean several towns of 1,000 or more, which have already voted to allow alcohol sales, could lose the sales.

Oneonta has a population of about 6,600. The issue concerning the 2009 law arose in the city after a 2012 countywide referendum on alcohol sales failed in Blount County. Voters within Oneonta, however, voted overwhelmingly in favor of sales - 57 percent to 43 percent. Soon after the election the city received a petition to hold an alcohol sales referendum.

When the city moved to set a referendum, despite the law that excluded them, an Oneonta resident filed the lawsuit, which ultimately led to Judge King's ruling.

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