Grundy County targets alcohol sales to minors

Grundy County targets alcohol sales to minors

March 14th, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek

Grundy County, Tenn., is cracking down on alcohol sales to underage buyers.

The County Commission voted last week to establish a county beer board that would standardize alcohol sales and how authorities punish violators.

"We're hoping that the county beer board will set the bar and the standard for the other city municipalities to follow," said David Hodges, spokesman for the Grundy County Sheriff's Office.

The Grundy Safe Communities Coalition, an organization consisting of a number of county representatives including the mayor's office, businessmen and faith-based communities, has been working to curb underage drinking since its formation in 2010.

The decision to form the county board came after the coalition asked that retail compliance checks be done in Grundy stores to be sure alcohol wasn't passing into the hands of underage buyers.

The results were surprising.

Fifteen of 33 Grundy County stores failed the checks. In some instances, the coalition found that sales clerks were giving the alcohol free of charge to underage buyers.

Further research showed that a number of store owners had been issued licenses without paying the annual privilege tax.

Several city beer boards were unclear on what to do when stores sold alcohol to underage buyers. Some fined the clerks, while others did nothing. County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said the county has had a beer board in the past, but when there was little to do, members stopped meeting.

"Due to some unfortunate things going on in our community, our community started up a Grundy County Safe Communities Coalition, and we've applied for some grants to assist with teenage drinking and drug abuse," Cleek said of the board's revival.

Cleek said the county panel will work with municipalities to make sure the rules are uniform and applied fairly.

"We wanted to give the opportunity for city governments and the local beer boards ... to handle their violations themselves," Hodges said.

The board has four members -- one representative from each county commission district.

Members will meet with the coalition March 21 to determine guidelines for operation and standardized fines.

"The county has taken a very big step forward in putting the beer board back together," Hodges said.

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.