Poetic Justice

The cost to run two elections to bring liquor stores to Loudon County, $40,000.00, The cost to obtain a certified LLC from the state, $300. The look on Ed Bell's face when he didn't get his permit to open a liquor store in Loudon, PRICELESS!

Just imagine if you had put as much energy, time and money into bringing liquor stores to Loudon County as Ed Bell and company have only to see your chances to open a liquor store dashed just because you didn't want to pay $300 for LLC (Limited Liability Company) licenses from the state.

According to liquor partner John Tuck, that's why they didn't have their paper work in order. Tuck stated that they hated to spend the money till they found out if they would be allowed to apply for a liquor licenses. Just think of that, after spending all that money on elections, they came within $300 of realizing their dream of owning their very own liquor store.

Of course Bell stated back during the election he "wasn't promoting drinking, he just wanted to get something done in this county that some people oppose." And of course he wanted to see the tax dollars stay in Loudon County. Well, Ed should be happy. He got it done and the taxes will stay in Loudon County. He just wont make any money on it.

After the meeting, Mr. Bell alluded that this might not be over. He stated that he "hadn't lost yet." But as one of the members of the audience noted after the meeting, "it was his own fault. If he hadn't been such a tightwad, he would probably have gotten his liquor permit."

'Best' applicant denied: Loudon City Council awards Certificates of Compliance for liquor stores

Vicky Newman News Herald

  In a meeting with more twists and turns than a suspense novel, a procedure more competitive than a 500-mile NASCAR race, and with higher stakes than a championship poker game, Loudon City Council members Monday nixed their own top-ranked applicant, and awarded liquor store Certificates of Compliance to second and third ranked applicants.

Disqualifying the application submitted by Ed Bell and partner John Tuck, the Council sidestepped a dilemma that had been predicted earlier by some members — the necessity for deciding between two top-ranked applications for the same location. The proposed location — a .62-acre tract at Centre 75 Business Park — is owned by Loudon County Economic Development Agency. The LCEDA had not awarded an option on the property, but recommended the city and county sell it to the winner of the Certificate of Compliance.

Council members had spent considerable time in discussions to ensure the awards procedure would be fair and objective. But the ratings system the city developed resulted in the quagmire.

Councilman Lewis “Charlie Brown” Garner said he favored awarding certificates to the two top-ranked applicants, regardless of specified location.

“I make a motion we award them according to rank, and let them go to the state and see what happens,” Garner said. “It’s going to be a mess but we knew that awhile ago. We tried to be unbiased. The man that got more points from me, me and him don’t care for each other. What could be more fair?”

Garner continued, “We can’t help this; we didn’t tell four people to apply for two locations. Somebody is going to lose —  I believe we figured that out, didn’t we?”

City attorney Ed Arnold said he was uncertain of the legal implications of issuing two permits for the same location. ”This is new territory to all of us,” Arnold said. “The best thing is let the state tell us.”

An audience member, Loudon native Greg Harris volunteered an answer.  Addressing the council, Harris identified himself as a Knoxville attorney with some experience with the ABC. “The board can only issue one certificate of compliance for a location. It is state law. If you issue two, they are going to kick them both back.”

Laura Plemmons, attorney for second-ranked applicant Johnny James, pointed out that the forms submitted by Bell and Tuck listed the applicant as Loudon Wine and Spirits LLC. Plemmons said the name was not yet registered with the Secretary of State’s office as a limited liability corporation, and not yet a legal entity. Therefore, she said, the application submitted by Bell and Tuck was not legal. 

Plemmons added that her client, James, who applied as 72 Wine and Spirits LLC, is legally incorporated and registered. In addition, she said James had been first to approach the LCEDA requesting an option on the property.

James added his arguments to the discussion. “If the entity doesn’t exist, it has no right to apply,” he told council members. “I told you guys to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. A lot is at stake, and you knew this might happen.”

Councilman Eugene Lambert asked Arnold if he felt the board could award the certificate to the top applicant. Arnold responded, “Frankly, I don’t think so, until the name is registered and legal with the state.”

Council members would have found it easier to determine the best course of action had the application by Bell and Tuck been the only one with problems. Garner pointed out that all applications contained one or more deficiencies, some more significant than others.

Lynn Mills, city manager, said it was up to council to determine the weight given deficiencies.

Discussions continued at length, as council members debated ordinance requirements and merits of all arguments. 

Councilman Lynn Milsaps made the motion to award Certificates of Compliance to James and James Purdy, doing business as Grove Wine and Spirits. Purdy proposes a liquor establishment at 403 Grove St.

The motion was seconded by Councilman Eugene Lambert.

Garner said he felt a legal opinion from the state was needed. “There’s a lot of issues with this motion,” he said. 

With the motion on the table awaiting action, Mayor Bernie Swiney said he needed a cigarette break and called a five-minute recess. Several council members left the room for a while.

After the break, Swiney asked those in favor of the motion to say “aye,” but was reminded he needed a roll-call vote. Milsaps, Lambert and Cartwright voted in favor of the motion. Garner voted “no.” 

Swiney said, “Oh lord, please help me,” then voted “no” with Garner. “I waited too long to retire,” Swiney said.

After the vote, the board proceeded to several other business matters. Later, Lambert asked the Council to consider awarding three licenses instead of two. Mills said that would require amending the ordinance. “We’d be starting all over in the process,” Mills said.

Bell had few comments after the vote, saying he wanted to discuss options with his attorney.

A 6 p.m. public hearing on proposed and advertised liquor locations had brought many attendees to the meeting early, and kept them late. Despite the packed house, there were no citizen comments. All attendees observed and waited for the decisions to be made.

The applicants awarded Certificates of Compliance have cleared the first hurdle, and now must proceed to the state for an ABC liquor license. James said he will go back to the LCEDA to get title of the property, then apply for the ABC license. “I expect to have a store open in four months,” he said.