Loudon's liquor dilemma: Loudon City Council set to sort through liquor license applicants
 Vicky Newman News Herald
Six applications, Four proposed locations, Five criteria for rating applications, Dozens of unresolved issues.

After four months of work, numbers crunching time has arrived for the Loudon City Council, but the task to select liquor license applicants for awarding Certificates of Compliance is not getting easier.

Acceptance of liquor license applications closed Thursday, March 5. Lynn Mills, city manager, said council members are charged with evaluating applications by Friday, March 13, if they are to award two certificates of compliance at the March 16 meeting, as planned.

Recommended evaluation forms were distributed to the Council during Monday’s workshop meeting.

Mills said council members could complete the evaluation forms for each application at their leisure.

Applicants and the proposed liquor store sites include:

• James Purdy, 403 Grove Street;

• Ed Bell, Highway 72, Centre 75 parcel 105.1;

• Johnny James, Highway 72, Centre 75 parcel 105.1;

• Manjula Bhalodia, 1562, Highway 72 N.;

• Mark Matlock, 15000 Highway 72 N.;

• Shetal Patel, 1562 Highway 72 N.

Mills had been given the task of reviewing applications initially to ensure they met the requirements. Council members had planned to take only those that met all requirements and evaluate them based on a ranking system. Mills said that while all the applications met major requirements, none were perfect.

“Each of the six applications has some deficiency,” Mills said. “None fit every detail of the requirements; they all had deficiencies in one area or another. It is up to council to decide if they are worthy or should be thrown out. Some of it is just paperwork interpretation, like what is your definition of an income statement. Some folks run personal businesses and have no income statement. Personal income is different from a business.”

The use of a points rating system remains a bone of contention among council members. Councilman Lynn Milsaps said he had questions about some of the proposed evaluation criteria. “Like this residency, what does that mean? If they are a resident of Loudon County? Don’t they have to be a resident of Loudon County?” Mills said council members may choose to assign additional points for applicants who are long-term residents, as opposed to those who are short-term.

Councilman Lewis “Charlie Brown” Garner, who has been vocally supportive of the most restrictive ordinance possible,  said he still has issues with the evaluation form. Garner said he fears the council is courting litigation. “You have two applicants applying for the same parcel (location), and you could get the same score. I don’t care if his name is Joe or Moe, I think this is illegal,” Garner said. He added that he still felt the best way to select applicants is to pull names from a hat.

Mills said a lottery form of selection is not valid, unless the forms were evaluated first based on merits, then an applicant drawn from the finalists. He added that it is improbable that two applications will receive identical ratings from all council members. “Out of five evaluations, the odds of somebody getting the exact same points are very low,” he said.

Milsaps also said he worried about the appearance of bias. “If we give different scores for residency, then public opinion and appearance would be that we are biased in some way, and they could sue. Could we justify a score we gave one applicant over another? I worry about the ramifications.”

Councilman Michael Cartwright said, “We have four people and two addresses. I can’t give Ed more (points) than Johnny or Patel more than the other applicant for location, but I can like the design of one more than another.”

Garner said, “I just think we should take more time with this. We went through this too fast — we’ve done it in such a hurry. An extra 30 days won’t matter.”

Council member Eugene Lambert noted the council holds the power to award certificates outright. “You don’t have to go through an evaluation process,” he said.