The Bar is Closed

Liquor petition raises few spirits for referendum

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   City of Elizabethton residents will not decide whether to permit liquor by the drink in the city after a petition requesting a referendum on the question failed to produce a minimum number of names.
   County Administrator of Elections Tracy Harris confirmed Friday that the county Election Commission had not received the petition requesting a citywide referendum on liquor by the drink in the city of Elizabethton.
   The Commission received only two sheets of names -- most of which were disqualified because of improper identification by those who signed -- advocating a liquor-by-the-drink referendum for the city.
   "It can't be presented again until the next general election," said Harris. "The question can only be petitioned to be placed on a general election ballot of a regular county, state, or federal election -- not during a primary."
   The petition required the name and address of each person who signed. Only residents of Elizabethton were eligible to sign the petition because the question only addressed the city.
   State law requires the petition to have 10 percent of the total city voters in the 1998 gubernatorial election to place the referendum on the ballot.
   The petition required 302 signatures of city residents based on the 3,022 city voters tallied in that election four years ago.
   The referendum would have only been open in city voting precincts of Gap Creek, West Side, Courthouse, East Side, Happy Valley, and a handful of voters in both the Central and Valley Forge precincts.
   The petition's failure comes after several weeks of rumor that support for liquor by the drink had gained a wave of support in the city. Currently, the nearest city that allows liquor stores and mixed drink service at restaurants is Johnson City.
   Beer and wine may be served on premises at some city establishments.
   However, mixed drinks -- frequently served by larger chain restaurants with their own bars -- are prohibited from being served on- or off-premises in Carter County or Elizabethton.
   State law allows private clubs and groups to obtain special licenses to sell liquor. The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission can issue liquor by the drink licenses to private, nonprofit groups that meet the legal definition of a "club".
   To qualify as a club under state law, an organization must be a non-profit organization that has been operating for at least two years before submitting an application to serve alcohol. The "club" must have at least 100 members who regularly pay dues and a kitchen in its building with dining room space, according to state law.
   "If you do not meet the basic definition of a club, you have to have a law written to meet the requirements by the state Legislature," said Jackie Ailey with the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission in Knoxville.
   The office of the county clerk issues business licenses for beer sales after the county's Beverage Board approves an application permit to sell beer and wine either on or off premises. The city of Elizabethton's Beverage Board, comprised of the city council, approves on- and off-premises beer permits.
   The liquor by the drink referendum last appeared on a city election ballot in November 1988 when city voters voted down the proposal by a margin of 1,880 for to 2,521 against.