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Williamsburg voters approve alcohol sales

By a narrow 14-vote margin, Williamsburg voters went to the polls during a special election Tuesday, and opted to allow alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants that seat at least 100 people.

The one thing that people on both sides of the issue can agree upon is that they were surprised the measure passed, and the margin was this close.

"I knew it would be close," said Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison. "The only thing I wanted was for everyone to get out and vote so that we would know how the people of Williamsburg felt."

He admits this wasn't a supermajority, but he says the town must now move forward.

"I realize there is a lot of hurt feelings in this that is the one thing I hate more than anything is that it divided the town. We are going to go forward. We would have gone forward if the vote had been any different," Harrison said.

Harrison said that he doesn't know how long it will be until the first alcohol sales start.

He plans to talk with Kentucky Alcohol Beverage Control officials today, and see what the next steps are in order to move forward.

Harrison said he has no clue whether Sunday alcohol sales will be allowed, or the process by which that will be determined.

"I don't know if that is a council vote or something else," he noted.

In the six Williamsburg voting precincts, 533 people voted yes for alcohol sales and 519 voters cast no ballots.

Yes voters carried five out the six precincts. The College Hill precinct was the only precinct where no forces prevailed, and that was by a 30-vote margin.

Yes voters happy

John Bowen and Danny Davenport, members of the unofficial group Citizens for Change, said they were happy with the results.

"I'm very happy. I'm not a big alcohol person personally, but I do think people should have freedom of choice," Bowen said. "If somebody wants to go in and have a drink with their meal, then I think they should be free to do so. I don't know why there was such a fight against it."

Bowen said he hopes the measure brings change to the area.

"We are tired of the same old status quo," he said. "Hopefully, it can do some good things for the area. Even though it's alcohol, I believe some positives can come from it."

Bowen hopes the initiative will bring some jobs in the form of new restaurants, which in turn might result in other development.
Davenport noted that 97 percent of the country already allow people to drink alcohol in restaurants or buy it in stores, and Williamsburg was living in the 3 percent that didn't.

"I never did understand that. I'm happy for progress, jobs, restaurants and freedom of choice," Davenport noted.

He thinks alcohol sales will be an economic stimulus for the town with two restaurants apparently already planning on coming to town.

"I'm sure some of the other restaurants are going to hire more staff," Davenport said. "I'm very happy. I've been fighting for this for a long time. I'm not the only one. I didn't make the choice. I made my choice. I voted yes. The citizens voted yes, and this is what we got."

Dry forces disappointed

Anti-alcohol forces admit that they were both surprised and disappointed by the vote.

Pat Marple, Chairman of the Citizens Against the Sale of Alcohol, admits he would be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed by the outcome.

Marple isn't sure what swayed the outcome, which he said could be a number of factors, such as a lower voter turnout than the city saw the last time the measure was on the ballot six years ago.

Williamsburg voters rejected the same referendum in 2006 by a vote of 790-577.

"I don't know the answer to it. I don't pretend to know," he noted. "I am really proud of the workers, who helped. They worked hard. Really, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We did our best and that's all we can do."

Marple said that only time can tell whether this will prove to be a good choice or bad choice for Williamsburg.

"I don't believe we can stay the same. We will either get better or get worse," he said. "My biggest concern is what is going to come next. If you look at cities around us, then you will think what will be next is packaged stores like Corbin did. I hope it doesn't come to that."

Gerald Mullins, Co-Chair of the Citizens Against the Sale of Alcohol, said he too is not sure what swayed the outcome, but that Harrison's announcements last week that two restaurants were interested in opening in Williamsburg if alcohol sales were approved may have had an impact.

"A lot of people took that as pretty solid stuff. Whether that turns out, I don't know. Obviously, he was confident enough to bring it up," Mullins said.

"A lot of people felt like something big is going to come. I don't feel like it will, but maybe they will prove me to be wrong."
Both Mullins and Marple said they both still love the town and the people in it.

"It is my hometown. I love this town. I will hold my head high," Mullins said. "I'm a minister. I will keep preaching, and I will keep shaking people's hands. These folks on the other side. They are my friends.

"They were my friends before, and they are still my friends that's the way it is going to be. I'm disappointed, but life goes on. I hope the best for our town."

Harrison said one call he definitely will be making in the near future is to the two groups, who promised restaurants if the measure passed.

35 percent turnout

Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwartz estimated that about 35 percent of Williamsburg voters went to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots, which she considers a good turnout.

Schwartz admits that she was "very shocked" by the outcome, and didn't think the measure would pass.

Anyone wanting to ask for a voting recanvass has only 24 hours to do so after a special election. The free procedure involves double checking print outs and machine totals to make sure there weren't any tabulation errors on election night.

Schwartz said her office always rechecks vote totals on the day after elections.

About 31 percent of registered Corbin voters went to the polls last month, and voted by a nearly 100-vote margin to allow packaged alcohol sales in the city limits.

In 2003, Corbin voters approved the sale of alcohol by the drink in restaurants by a nearly 300-vote margin.

Schwartz estimated that Tuesday's special election cost taxpayers about $7,000.

Voter affidavits

Schwartz said there was some issue with less than 100 voters, who filed affidavits saying they had moved into the city, but hadn't changed their addresses.

Under state law, if this happens then all a voter has to do is go to the precinct, sign an oath of voter and a new voter registration card in order to vote in the precinct where the voter now lives.

"The oath of voter registration cards are turned over to the grand jury to be investigated to see if that person lived in the city or not," she said.

Schwartz said there is no way of determining whether those people voted yes or no.

Camera issue

Whitley County election officials moved the voting equipment at the courthouse precinct number 24 from the hallway into an office because of an issue with security cameras in the hallway.

Schwartz said the cameras were installed after a reported break-in at the sheriff's department in December 2009.

Schwartz said two cameras in that hallway are there strictly as security cameras to monitor the entrances to the courthouse.

"It did not show people casting votes at all," Schwartz said. "The voting machine was several feet from the front door. The table where they were voting was several feet from the front door. All the camera shows is the entrance to the courthouse."

Election officials initially covered the two cameras with plastic bags, and by 10:30 a.m. had moved voting equipment into the former county treasurer's office on the first floor where no cameras are located.

Schwartz noted that in today's technology age, it would be very difficult to find a polling place, which doesn't have security cameras somewhere.

As of noon Tuesday, neither the Kentucky Attorney General's Office nor the Kentucky Secretary of State's Office had received any complaints regarding voting in Whitley County, according to spokespeople for the offices.


Jerry Taylor (March 21, 2012) Reply

Schwartz needs to bring herself into the 21 Century

Jerry Taylor (March 21, 2012) Reply

Schwartz needs to bring herself into the 21 Century

Outta There (March 21, 2012) Reply

Why should she bring herself into the 21st Century? Few others have in that area. It is easier to stick you head in the sand than to move forward. Plus there are too many hypocrites there for it to change. Go sit in Jellico and watch all the God fearing Baptists buy their beer and then listen to them rail against it on Sunday. Pathetic.

Howard (March 25, 2012) Reply

I find it exceedingly ironic that London, considered by many to be the cosmopolitan area of Southeastern Kentucky, voted NO to package alcohol sales: Corbin voted Yes; and now Williamsburg, by a margin of less than 15 votes, is now gonna allow Restaurant alcohol sales. Change . . . it's a comin' folks. Get used to it; embrace it; become One with it. It'll make thangs a lot easier and cause a lot less gnashing of teeth.

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