Beer Petition Turned In To County Supervisors
Questions Surface Following Tuesday’s Discussion
By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – A three-inch stack of papers said to contain more than 2,800 signatures signed by Yalobushians in favor of having a county-wide vote to determine the future of beer found its way to the supervisors’ table in Coffeeville Tuesday.
Oxford attorney Andy Arant presented the petition on behalf of the Yalobusha Progressive Association (YPA). Cliff Lawson and Mickey Howley, members of the YPA, were also at the meeting.
“The YPA has been working very hard to gather signatures for the petition to be put on the ballot, hopefully putting it on the general election,” Arant told supervisors.
Before the petition was handed over was an almost 30-minute discussion regarding whether the petition, if it contains signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters in the county, could put the beer issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Several points were raised by Board of Supervisors attorney John Crow that could put the beer election date past the Nov. 6 election – ultimately requiring a special election.
However the first step by the board was taken Tuesday, in an unanimous vote authorizing Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney and the Election Commissioners to check the validity of the signatures.
Before that vote was taken, Crow advised supervisors that they were ultimately responsible for making sure that the petition contained signatures from at least 20 percent of the registered voters in the county.
There were two primary questions discussed in the meeting that will determine how long it would take after the petition was filed before it would appear on a ballot.
The first question raised is how much time the signature verification process will take after the petition was turned in Tuesday. The second question raised is if statutory time frame requirements could be met enabling the beer issue to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Verifying The Signatures
“It is up to the board,” Crow said about the authority making sure that 20 percent of the county’s registered voters signed the petition.
“Customarily it has been in the past that the board would tender it to the Circuit Clerk,” Crow added.
Another factor in verifying the signatures, Crow said Tuesday, would be to make sure that the people who signed the petition were legitimate, adding that the voter roll may not always be accurate. Two examples were cited by Crow – certain convicted felons who may be on the voter roll who signed the petition. The second example, cited by Crow, was people who don’t live in the county and do not intend to move back, but are still on the voter rolls, may have signed the petition. Crow also suggested using the tax rolls to substantiate voter information.
Crow said that once the petition comes back from Burney, it will be in the board’s court.
“It (date of the election) can’t be less than 60 days,” Crow said.
“I think it would take some time to determine, … do a little research,” Beat Three Supervisor Butch Surrette said.
“This thing is filed in the 12th hour to get it on the general ballot,” Crow continued.
Expanding on his advice to the board, Crow said that savings generated from not having to have a special election (which has been estimated to be over $20,000) could be “chewed” up if proponents or advocates of the petition filed a lawsuit against the county if the procedure is not followed precisely.
“I don’t see what the hurry is,” Crow said, adding later in the meeting that he estimated a month would be adequate time to verify the signatures.
The second point raised was if statutory requirements could be met to allow the beer issue to be voted on by the General Election. The question was if there must be a 60 day time period between the verification of the signatures and putting the beer issue on the ballot.
“There is less than 60 hours between now and Friday,” Crow said. (Friday would be the last day to meet the 60 day window before the general election.)
Arant disagreed with Crow about the 60 day window adding that he was talking about laws dealing specifically with the general election and not a special election.
“I say it is both,” Crow answered.
“The attorney general has ruled on this,” Arant responded.
“I don’t care what the attorney general says,” Crow answered, adding that their opinion is just as good as “yours or mine.”
“Before we file, we don’t want to push the board to set a special election,” Arant said later in the meeting.
Crow reiterated his position several times that until the petition is filed, there is no action for the board to take.
“Does the board feel compelled to have an election in 60 days?” Arant asked a last time, apparently seeking for supervisor input into the issue.
“It appears that you are trying to play games here with the dates and time (of the election),” Crow said, pushing Arant for an answer regarding if the signatures were going to be turned over to county officials today.
“You are wasting their time,” Crow said.
“We are not trying to play games, we are very serious,” Arant answered.
Arant then told board members that he was filing the petition and handed it to Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn.
“Gentlemen, thank you for your time,” Arant said.
With the petition formally filed, the dialogue continued as former Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart took the floor.
Hart, who said that the City of Water Valley has had a couple or three beer petitions over the years, asked if the petition would be made available for the opposition to review.
“As far as I am concerned, yes,” Surrette answered. “I think it is a little short on time,” he added.
“This is a very sensitive issue,” Beat Two Supervisor Tommy Vaughn then said. “We represent people on both sides of the issue.”
Vaughn added that supervisors will be pushed up a corner, no matter what decision is made about the date of the election.
“John Crow is our legal counsel for this board. We are inclined to do whatever he says. We don’t want a special election, but it may come to that,” Vaughn said.
“I want to be sure it is done right,” Surrette said. “Give the opposition time to examine it. It’s probably going to come to a special election. Maybe it needs to have an election all on its own, let the voters focus on one issue,” Surrette said.
“How much time will it take Hart to examine it. Are you giving him two weeks?” Beat Five Supervisor Bubba Tillman asked.
Crow responded, saying he thought it would take a month to review the signatures.
“I am not here representing a group of opposition,” Hart then told supervisors.
Burney then asked for the election commissioners to be compensated for their time while helping in the process.
Crow said that he was unsure if state statute would allow compensation to the commissioners.
“How can we hire somebody to do something we are required by law to do,” Crow said referring to earlier discussion when he told supervisors that they were ultimately responsible for verifying the names on the petition.
Tillman then asked about the process in other counties who may have dealt with the issue.
“Customarily the board turns it to the Circuit Clerk, who comes back with an affidavit and the board certifies it,” Arant answered.
The public has been thinking Daryl has the voter registration,” Tillman continued, questioning the supervisors’ role in checking signatures or beyond the actual voter roll to authenticate the names on the petition.