More East Texas Cities Make Push For Alcohol Elections
By KELLY GOOCH
Even more East Texas cities are looking to go wet.
Whitehouse City Secretary Stefani Wright said 10 qualified Whitehouse voters have put their names on petition applications for the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption, the legal sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption and the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders.
As of Thursday, the Smith County Elections Office had not received the applications.
Once petitions are granted, each petition must be signed by 35 percent of the residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, or 527 people, Ms. Wright said.
After the group gets the required number of signatures, Smith County has 30 days to verify them.
Smith County commissioners then could order an alcohol election if there are enough qualified signatures.
Supporters hope to have an alcohol election in May.
Whether that will happen is unknown, but Whitehouse residents already are weighing in on the possibility of the city going wet.
Barbara Cluiss said she thinks legalizing alcohol sales would be good for Whitehouse.
"We need the revenue. I think we would grow faster (with alcohol sales) …," she said. "It would (also) be extra jobs for people."
"We'll just have to see how everyone votes. I'm just a citizen here trying to help Whitehouse out."
Susan Hargis, an administrative secretary for Whitehouse, agreed.
"The money coming in (due to alcohol sales) would be great," she said.
Sherman Mayfield, chairman of the ministerial alliance for Whitehouse, said he is against legalizing alcohol sales.
"My feeling is that (as a) community, we don't need to embrace everything that brings in revenue. That's like saying if you raise poisonous snakes in your yards, if that will bring in revenue, we should do it," he said.
Mayfield also referenced Proverbs 20:1, which states "wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."
Rick Sydnor, pastor at Gateway Baptist Church, said he is against a wet Whitehouse because his father was an alcoholic. Therefore, he knows how alcohol can destroy families.
"It takes money out of family pockets. Yes, I understand how it increases the tax base, but people can drive … and get it. We don't need it in Whitehouse," he said.
Additionally, Sydnor said legalizing alcohol sales would give more access to teenagers.
"There's an age limit, but I was there once …," he said. "If you have an accident with someone else on the road, it affects other families. DWIs are at a high level."
If petitions are granted, Mayfield and Sydnor said they plan to oppose the effort.
"I'm going to be one of the guys who will lead the opposition," Mayfield said. "I have a right to fight, and that's what I'll do."
He said Whitehouse probably has 10 to 15 churches that will join him.
Mayor Danny Hogden plans to remain neutral.BULLARD
"I don't have any expressed thoughts until I see what voters have to say," he said.
Like Whitehouse, Bullard is looking at going wet.
City Manager Larry Morgan said the city has received petition applications with 39 names.
Out of those 39, he said 14 were verified as qualified Bullard voters. Ten are required.
Once petitions are granted, Bullard would need about 160 signatures on each of them. The Bullard City Council then could call an election if there are enough qualified names.
"In some cities, you'll have a group of citizens that are in favor of (alcohol sales), but this is a hired company. This company could carry (an election) through from start to finish, or it could be a group of concerned citizens," Morgan said.
No matter how the election is handled, Morgan said he and his staff plan to remain neutral.
Supporters hope to have an election in November.
Whitehouse and Bullard officials say the cities do not currently have any restaurants that sell alcohol.TROUP
While Whitehouse and Bullard are looking at going wet, so are other East Texas cities.
In Troup, a group called Troup Citizens for Progress has picked up petitions for "the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption only, the legal sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption only (and) the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only."
The petitions were granted after 10 qualified Troup voters put their name on petition applications.
City Secretary Cheryl Jimerson has said each petition must be signed by 100 qualified Troup voters.
Supporters hope to have an election in May.
From an economic standpoint, Mayor John Whitsell has said he believes legalizing alcohol sales would be beneficial for Troup.
For instance, it is an opportunity to draw in sales tax from south Tyler and Whitehouse to supplement the tax rate and bring property taxes down, he said last week.
If an alcohol election is called, Whitsell said he will not campaign for or against the issue.
Billie Mason has said she does not think Troup should have an alcohol election.
"I just don't think Troup is ready. It's just a small town, and I have concerns about the teens (drinking)," she previously said.JACKSONVILLE
In Jacksonville, Progress Jacksonville, a special purpose political action committee, turned in petitions Jan. 21 as part of its efforts to legalize alcohol sales in the city.
One petition would allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption at places such as convenience stores and grocery stores. The other would allow restaurants to sell beer and wine without requiring private club memberships.
The measures would not permit package liquor sales.
Committee Chairman George Douglas has said the group needed to get about 1,000 signatures and ended up getting 1,193, give or take a couple.
"It took a little over a week to get the signatures. … There were a few instances of people taking exception, but overall, people were acceptive of the initiative. I don't think we expected to get them that quickly, but we did," Progress Jacksonville member Mike McEwen previously said.
The earliest Cherokee County commissioners could call an election is at their Feb. 22 regular meeting.
And as Progress Jacksonville waits for the go-ahead from commissioners, it is seeking contributions from individuals and local convenience store operators.
Douglas said Jan. 21 that the group budgeted about $64,000 for the campaign and has collected about half of that "with some promises for some more."
"If we don't get all the money, our campaign would be less intense," he said last week. "We have a pretty methodical campaign plan. We're thinking about endorsements, articles in the newspapers -- of course we're thinking about signs. We're thinking about mail-outs (also), and we're not taking this election for granted. We're going to follow it all through."
In November, Progress Jacksonville hired Texas Petition Strategies, an Austin-based local-option consulting firm, to help them with its goals.
John Hatch, a partner with the firm, said Thursday that alcohol elections that include package liquor sales tend to not do as well.
"The other issue that gets groups tripped up is the issue of when petitions are turned in, it freezes the document (and they) can't delete or add names," he said.
Additionally, when a town goes wet, Brookshire's spokesman Sam Anderson said store sales increase by about five percent, a lot of which is from items bought along with alcohol.
Alcohol elections already have passed in Rusk and Winona.