published Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Election could dunk 'dry' Fort Oglethorpe

Signs advertise Sunday sales of beer and wine at a gas station in Catoosa County in sight of Beverage World, a Fort Oglethorpe speciality beer and wine retailer that can't sell on Sunday, because its inside city limits.
Signs advertise Sunday sales of beer and wine at a gas station in Catoosa County in sight of Beverage World, a Fort Oglethorpe speciality beer and wine retailer that can't sell on Sunday, because its inside city limits.
Photo by Tim Omarzu.

Voters in Catoosa County and Ringgold, Ga., OK'd Sunday sales of alcohol in November — leaving Fort Oglethorpe as the sole dry island in the now-wet county.

Mayor Lynn Long wants to give Fort Oglethorpe's voters a chance to change that next November.

Long can't do it now, because votes on the City Council aren't in the mayor's favor.

When Councilman Earl Gray made a motion at the Jan. 28 council meeting to put a referendum for Sunday sales before voters, it died for lack of support.

The two other councilmen, Johnnie "Red" Smith and Louis Hamm, are dead-set against Sunday sales.

Long couldn't weigh in, because he only votes to break ties.

So Long is looking forward to a special election March 19 to fill the empty seat of former Councilman Eddie Stinnett, who died of a heart attack Nov. 28. Voters will choose between veteran politician Judd Burkhart and newcomer Clay Kissner.

If the new councilman agrees to put Sunday sales on the November ballot, then Long will be able to cast the tie-breaking vote to put the measure before voters.

"I myself will put it on the agenda on the first meeting after [the March 19 election]," said Long. He doesn't drink, but he said he wants residents to have their say.

Fort Oglethorpe voters turned down Sunday sales in 2011.

Long said, "The landscape's changed, because we're an island in the county."

He's concerned that restaurants and retailers will seek to "de-annex," or leave Fort Oglethorpe, so they can sell on Sundays. The owners of a prime 42-acre property on Battlefield Parkway at Dietz Road have indicated they want to leave Fort Oglethorpe if Sunday sales aren't on the November ballot, Long said.

Burkhart, who served eight years as a councilman and eight as mayor, said he would support putting Sunday sales on the ballot again.

"I would vote 'yes,'" he said. "I'm not voting for liquor by the drink, I'm voting to let [residents] say what they want."

Kissner, who's making his first bid for office, didn't return several phone calls left at his home and paving business seeking comment.

Smith said, "What's aggravating is, it was voted on just over a year ago. The public said no."

The effect of Catoosa County's decision to OK Sunday sales is playing out at the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and Cloud Springs Road.

A Conoco gas station on the county side of the intersection reopened about a month ago, and it has signs advertising Sunday sales of beer and wine.

"It's doing good," manager Andy Mershant said.

The store is in sight of Beverage World, a Fort Oglethorpe retailer that sells wine and high-end beer.

"It's frustrating," Beverage World assistant manager Sam Kublius said. "Fort O.'s this little outpost that can't sell on Sunday. It's frustrating and it gets to be a little ridiculous."

"I think if [Sunday sales] went up for a vote again, it will probably pass," Kublius said.

The Fort Oglethorpe City Council normally has five council members and a mayor. It's down to three councilmen and a mayor, because of Stinnett's death and because the seat held by former Councilman Charles Sharrock is in limbo.

The council voted unanimously Nov. 27 to unseat Sharrock for sexually harassing female city employees, but the city can't fill Sharrock's seat because he's battling his ouster in Catoosa County Superior Court.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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