Mayor vetoes alcohol ordinance change

Jared Felkins • Jul 26, 2017 at 9:05 PM

Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings made good on his promise to “give it some thought” and vetoed an ordinance change Wednesday made by the city council last week that deals with alcohol sales. 

At its last meeting July 18, the council approved, on a 4-3 vote, to remove the phrase, “any public library,” from a list of places such as churches, community centers, hospitals, funeral parlors, public recreation areas and schools within 250 feet where alcohol would be allowed to be sold. Jennings and aldermen Kristie Cantrell and Brandy Holcomb voted against the measure. 

On Wednesday, Jennings told The Democrat in an emailed statement he vetoed the council’s change to the ordinance. 

“After the voters of this community approved two referendums, the sale of packaged liquor and [liquor] by the drink, I worked hard for several months obtaining information from several surrounding communities who had liquor ordinances in place, as well as obtaining the expertise of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, an organization under the umbrella of the University of Tennessee that exists to assist city governments,” Jennings said in the statement. “From that research I prepared Ordinance No. 2017-02 to establish an alcoholic beverage ordinance. That ordinance was six pages long and contained 15 separate sections related to the sale of ‘intoxicating liquors.’” 

Jennings said the ordinance that contained provision regarding the list of places near where alcohol couldn’t be sold was approved on final reading Feb. 21 and went into effect March 6. 

“I voted for that ordinance,” Jennings said. “I considered that distance requirement to be reasonable, the method of measurement to be reasonable and the places it applied to, to be reasonable.”

Jennings said he erred at last week’s council meeting when he said he had 10 days to veto the council’s decision. In fact, he had until the next council meeting Aug. 15 to veto it after reviewing the Watertown charter. 

“Nevertheless, since I said 10 days, I felt it my responsibility to make that decision within 10 days, and I have done so.”

In his statement, Jennings cited three main reasons for his veto. 

“I consider a public library to be very similar to a school, a community center, a church or religious building or a public recreation area,” he said. “In all those places, a large percentage of those attending would be children. I believe the same thing applies to our public library. It does not seem logical to me to apply the distance test to those other places such as schools, churches and public recreation areas and not apply them to a public library. 

“Concern was expressed during the debate at our July 18 meeting about how this might affect business in Watertown. With that in mind, I had a GIS map prepared using the main entrance of the Hamblen-Bell Watertown Public Library as the center point and established a 250-foot radius around that center point. Keep in mind the distance requirement is from the main entrance of the retail business to the main entrance of the public library. None of our current restaurants fall within that 250-foot radius. In other words, this distance requirement would not affect their selling alcohol, should they choose to apply and do so. The 250-foot radius actually intersects a very small portion of two of our restaurants in town on East Main Street, but the front door on both establishments is outside of the 250-foot radius. Keep in mind there is also a 250-foot radius around any church in our community, and the location of Watertown First Baptist Church and the Watertown Church of God of Prophecy may affect who would be eligible for the sale of liquor and beer

“Finally, should the public library be removed from the distance requirement, this would open the possibility of, for special events, the sale of wine, liquor or beer occurring on the public square during a public event. I cannot support that.”

Alderman Katie Smith, who originally brought up the idea to remove public library from the list, said last week it had to do with business on the square, which is where the library is located. 

“I would hate to limit that,” Smith said. “We’ve worked hard to get businesses in here.”

Jennings’ veto would require two-thirds approval of the council to override it. The council is expected to consider whether it will vote to override the veto at its next meeting Aug. 15 at the community center.

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