No wine verdict for Chattanooga: Signatures still being tallied by officials

No wine verdict for Chattanooga: Signatures still being tallied by officials

August 22nd, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Crystal Brooks, left, and Christina Siebold talk Thursday outside of the Hamilton County Election Commission after turning in petitions for wine sales in grocery stores.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

THE WINE SCOREBOARD

These are the preliminary petition numbers by 4 p.m. Thursday, but election officials are still counting.

Municipality // approved signature // required signatures

Chattanooga // 2,267 // 3,865

Collegedale // 79 // 185

East Ridge // 525 // 520

Lakesite // 63 // 60

Lookout Mountain // 28 // 94

Red Bank // 299 // 291

Signal Mountain // 379 // 342

Soddy-Daisy // 280 // 333

Walden // 5 // 85

Unincorporated Hamilton County // 903/3,246

Voters in four local municipalities will get to decide in November whether they want wine and cheese to be a one-stop shopping experience.

But the verdict is still out for Chattanooga and the unincorporated county -- the two largest voting blocs -- and four other small cities because officials are still counting.

People who wanted to get a referendum to allow wine sales in grocery stores on local ballots in November had until 4 p.m. Thursday to turn in signatures to county election officials.

Each municipality needs enough signatures to equal at least 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank and Signal Mountain were already safely over the line.

By deadline, Chattanooga had 2,267 of the 3,865 signatures it needed, 1,598 short. But Steelman estimated there still were approximately 700 pages left to count for the city. Each page can include up to 14 names.

In the unincorporated county, 903 signatures had been counted out of 3,249 needed. Steelman said about 300 more county pages remained to add up.

"We have to check each name for voter registration. And if the address on the petition is different but still in the same precinct, it counts. Otherwise, it doesn't. We even pull the registration cards and check the signatures -- and that takes time," Steelman said.

Steelman said more staff members could work on verifying wine petitions after the Aug. 7 election is certified Monday.

Collegedale had 79 of the requisite 185 signatures by deadline. But in the final minutes, resident David Barto, who is director of Collegedale Tomorrow and a member of the city's planning commission, dropped off a pile of signatures.

"Even with a 10 percent burn rate, I think we ought to be clear," Barto said.

Barto said he was doing this as a resident and not on behalf of the planning commission or Collegedale Tomorrow. He said that despite the municipality's Seventh-day Adventist roots, many people still want a say over wine sales in grocery stores.

"The biggest reason I wanted to do this is we've got developers who own property in Collegedale and Chattanooga. If we are going to get a new grocery store, I want it on the Collegedale side. And they've told us they are going to go where the wine sales are," he said. "It doesn't mean you are for or against it. It's about whether you think people should be able to vote on it," he said.

And grocery stores want people to have a say, too.

Publix, which just opened a new store on Chattanooga's North Shore, has supported nonprofit petition drive organizer Red, White & Food since day one, Publix spokeswoman Brenda Reid said.

"Publix is in favor of placing this on the ballot so that Tennesseans can choose whether they want to be able to purchase wine at grocery stores," Reid said.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the so-called "wine in grocery stores" bill in March. It allows cities and counties that already allow liquor by the drink or package sales to have a wine referendum in November.

Ridgeside is the only city in Hamilton County that doesn't qualify for the referendum.

In communities where the referendum passes in November, most grocers could start selling wine as early as July 2016. Those within 500 feet of package stores would have to wait until 2017 unless they get written permission from the nearby package store owners.

After November, the next opportunity for a referendum would be in 2016.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.