Loudon City Council begins liquor ordinance discussions

Vicky Newman, News Herald

A month after Loudon County voters elected to legalize liquor sales in the county, city officials and residents are still reeling from the fact that those stores must be located inside Loudon city limits.
About two dozen people attended Monday’s workshop meeting of the Loudon City Council, and shared their viewpoints, both pro and con, with officials.

The special called-meeting was scheduled as an opportunity for the council to begin studying ordinances for regulating liquor sales in the city limits.  However, while the 90-minute session brought some heated comments, it included little discussion of specifics for a proposed Loudon liquor ordinance.

Lynn Mills, Loudon city manager, said he had obtained the ordinances of comparable nearby cities as a starting point. “We need to draft an ordinance; it is necessary to make this happen,” Mills said.  “According to state law, we can’t do anything to prohibit (liquor sales), but we can regulate it. State law reads that (the city of Loudon) is the only place it can be.”

Mills provided sample liquor ordinances from Alcoa, Maryville, Farragut, Kingston and Harriman. “Of the five I read, I felt Alcoa and Kingston were more closely related to Loudon,” Mills said. “I recommend we select one of those and modify it to meet our requirements. It is not a simple process. It’s going to take some time.”

Within the parameters of state law, a number of issues must be decided locally. Loudon must establish where liquor stores will be permitted to locate, how many will be permitted, how large and what kind of building and parking lot will be required, what fees will be charged and how often.

Several council members  said they favored using the Alcoa ordinance as a model and starting point, but felt they needed another workshop session, with representatives of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission in attendance.

Councilman Gene Lambert said state law is confusing on some issues.  “If they sell liquor by the drink, does that preclude them from package sales?” Lambert asked. Mills replied, “We need to clarify that with ABC. State law will take you around in circles.”

“It’ll drive you crazy,” Lambert said.

When Mayor Bernie “Inky” Swiney invited input from the audience, the council heard first from Becky Kerr, a Greenback resident who told of an accident that almost claimed her life in 2004.

“I was hit by a drunk driver from Tellico Village. I was on my way home from church on Highway 321. He was coming from Tellico Village and tried to pass six cars and hit us head-on,” she said.

Describing  the trauma she suffered and months of recovery, Kerr added that she fears drunk driving will become a greater problem with local liquor stores.

Most of the audience members professed sharing Kerr’s viewpoint, and collectively urged the council to adopt as restrictive an ordinance as possible.

Attendee Ed Bell pointed out that he did not promote drinking, but worked to get legal liquor sales on the ballot because he thinks the county can use the tax revenue.

Councilman Lewis “Charlie Brown” Garner said he took issue with Bell’s statements.  “You are in it for the money, and you couldn’t care less about the people of the City of Loudon. If you did, you would not advocate drinking. I am disgusted when you say you are doing this for the people and tax dollars. We know how to balance the budget. We don’t need this.”

Swiney, shaking his head, warned Garner and Bell, “Now, let’s keep this discussion amiable.”

The mayor of 19 years, who served 18 years as a council member, said dealing with the liquor ordinance  is the toughest job he has faced in all his years as a city official.

It requires a balancing act, he said.

“A big part of our responsibility is to enforce the laws, but it is necessary to protect our citizens and see it is done properly. That is the vast responsibility of the council,” Swiney said. “This is a tremendous responsibility on the council, to keep this as palatable as possible for everyone – those in support and those not. This is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we’ve got to play it the best we can, but we are unprepared.”

Already, 16 individuals are vying to be among the first liquor store operators licensed in Loudon. Garner said rumors are rampant about what will be coming, and many issues are still to be decided.
Garner said he believes another work session is needed.

“Some people think we need to start this (ordinance adoption process) this month, and have the second reading in January. That is ridiculous. If it takes six months to get it out, we still started within 60 days.”

After an ordinance is adopted,  procedure requires the city give the applicant a certificate of compliance before the applicant goes to the state ABC for a license.