By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – It has been just over 31 years since Yalobushians have seen an alcohol-related issue on the ballot, a statistic that is soon to change following a split vote during a recessed meeting in Coffeeville last Friday.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to set a special election on Dec. 11 to allow Yalobusha voters to determine the fate of beer and light wine in the county. Beer and light wine has been banned in Yalobusha County since 1937. The date of the special election falls just a month after the Nov. 6 general election.
The decision was made Friday with Supervisors Frank “Bubba” Tillman, M.H. “Butch” Surrette and Amos Sims voting in favor to push the vote past the general election after hearing legal advice from Board Attorney John Crow. Supervisors Tommy Vaughn and George Suggs voted against setting Dec. 11 as the election date.
The decision was made in the upstairs courtroom of the Coffeeville Courthouse, a change from the usual boardroom setting on the first floor, to accommodate the larger-than-usual crowd.
The beer petition was the first item on the agenda, and an orderly discussion lasted for more than an hour before the matter was brought to a vote.
Much of that dicussion was back and forth, weighing two options — having a separate special election or placing the issue on the general election ballot.
After more than 50 minutes of a back-and-forth dialog weighing the factors, a worse-case scenario presented by Crow was voiced prior to a motion setting the date.
“I got a call yesterday that a lawyer that said he would appeal that decision. Now that is fact,” Crow said when asked one last time about placing the matter on the general election ballot.
“That decision will be appealed. He told me that,” Crow said
Crow added he did not think that a Circuit Court Judge would stop an election, but it could reversed more than a year later in the state’s supreme court.
“I am giving you the worse case scenario. That is my job to do. Now you know,” Crow said.
“It is y’alls decision, whether you want to put it on Nov. 6 or not,” Crow continued. “I will be support you either way you go. That is my job,” Crow added.
Following Crow’s comments, Surrette motioned to set the date as Dec. 11.
With Surrette’s motion, Tillman then asked one last time.
“I want to ask this one more time… You still saying it is no way other than taking a chance on a lawsuit (for) having it Nov. 6?” Tillman asked.
“I want to have it as quick as possible,” Tillman added, also saying he did not want caught in a legal tangle by either party.
With Surrette’s motion hanging, discussion continued weighing the two options.
“I would like to see it on the Nov. 6 general election,” Suggs commented.
“I am ready to settle it one way or another,” Tillman said adding that he hated to spend the money on the special election.
Tillman then provided the second to Surrette’s motion with Sims’ vote carrying the decision.
The meeting started with Crow explaining that the petition had sufficient signatures and had met legal requirements.
“The board has jurisdiction and must call an election on the question that is set forth in the petition, that is required by statute,” Crow explained.
“The question is,” Crow then told the board, “Could we put it on the Nov. general election ballot?”
Citing considerable research, Crow said it was his opinion that it could not be placed on the general election ballot unless there are 60 days between the time the board delivers the ballot form to the election commissioners.
“It is too late to have an election on the general election ballot… because of the 60-day requirement that they have the ballot form officially delivered by the Board of Supervisors,” Crow said.
“The ballot form is the question, and then, below it, yea or nay,” Crow said, talking about the actual language of the ballot.
“Supporting me is case law on the subject,” Crow said citing a 1977 Supreme Court case.
“I am about 100 percent sure that I am right. There is not one A.G. opinion that says I am wrong. There is not one statute that says I am wrong. There is not one case that says I am wrong,” Crow said.
The Other Side
“I think in an effort to be fair and level the playing field, the attorney for the opposition might want to share their interpretation of these statutes with us,” Vaughn said.
“Most of what John said is correct,” YPA attorney Andy Arant responded.
“The ballot form of such issue must be filed with the commissioners of the election by the appropriate governing authority not less that 60 days previous to the date of the election,” Arant said, pointing to the same law that Crow had referenced earlier.
Arant argued that this requirement was met when the petition was turned in on Sept. 4.
“It is our position that the 60-day deadline has been met and so therefore it is soley this board’s discretion to put it on the general election or have a special election,” Arant said.
Arant closed his presentation with several comments.
“The reason we would like to see this on the general election ballot is … so that the taxpayers of the county won’t not have to incur the costs and the second reason is, historically more people turn out to vote in a general election than in a special election. We believe there would be more of a fair representation of what this county wants if it is on a general election ballot rather than a special election ballot.”
Public Input Before Vote
Prior to the vote being taken, Sims asked for comments from anyone in the crowd. His request drew comments from a handful of Yalobushians beginning with former supervisor Danny Barton.
“Is the board of the opinion that we are going to have the election?” Barton asked.
When the resounding answer was yes, Barton then asked why in the world they would consider spending $20,000 on a special election adding that the advice presented in the meeting were just “opinions.”
“Somebody needs to bite the bullet,” Barton concluded.
Next to speak was Ramona Bernard who said public support would be in favor of putting the issue on the general election ballot. She added that there will always be legal interpretations one way or another, but the board has the latitude to place it on the general election.
“You can boldly choose to save the members of the county $25,000… by having the nerve to go ahead and do it. We have to vote on it anyway. Public opinion would be with you if you make that decision,” she said.
Following Bernard’s comments, Dr. Joe Walker told supervisors he would like to see the election take place, but added that he wanted it to stay within the law. Dr. Walker also questioned how much legal fees the county would incur if the supervisor’s decision was contested.
Next to speak was Tommy White, who disagreed with Bernard, citing that the general populous would be in disagreement with her statement.
“It appears to me that it would be better to have a special election. There are less questions involved,” White said.
The last person to speak, Mickey Howley, is a member of the Yalobusha Progressive Association. He said the election is not about the cost, rather than about freedom.