By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Proponents of opponents of the county’s new beer ordinance packed the Coffeeville courtroom Monday for the first supervisors’ meeting of the new year. They waited anxiously to see if changes were on the horizon.
The main issue, evidenced by the number in attendance from the Sylva Rena community, was the portion of the county’s new ordinance which prohibits beer sales within 300 feet of a church.
The specific example was John Crawford’s business, Sylva Rena Grocery and Bait Store, which is located within 300 feet of Sylva Rena Baptist Church and will not be allowed to sell hot beer.
However, the issue was settled prior to Crawford’s plea, as another property owner also approached the board with similar concerns.
Bob Best was first on the agenda, explaining to supervisors that he had two problems with the ordinance – restricting sales to hot beer only and the distance requirement.
Best explained he owned a store on Hwy. 51 and was located 255 feet from the church. After a passionate plea, Best pressed supervisors individually for an answer.
“I think the board has pretty well spoken,” Supervisor Amos Sims told Best after Supervisor M. H. “Butch” Surrette reiterated earlier arguments for the restrictions. Surrette explained to Best that selling beer hot was favored to discourage motorists from drinking while driving.
“I cannot sell at 7026 Hwy. 51?” Best asked again.
“The board of supervisors voted 5 – 0 for the regulations that we set,” Supervisor Tommy Vaughn told Best. Vaughn explained that not all of the supervisors agreed on each portion of the ordinance, but they voted unanimously in favor of the regulations.
“We think we have done what is best for the county and the citizens of the county,” Surrette told Best as several supervisors echoed his sentiment.
“I think you are wrong about what the people think. Seventy percent voted for alcohol,” Best reminded supervisors.
An emotional Crawford was next on the agenda, reading a prepared statement to the county officials.
“I am here to respectfully request that the board of supervisors reconsider the ordinance that currently restricts the sale of beer within 300 feet from church and schools,” Crawford said.
He continued, telling supervisors that he and his wife did not desire to promote beer, but being able to offer the product at his location was imperative to compete.
Crawford pointed to talk of competing stores opening in the same area that would be able to sell beer.
“We hope you will consider this request with utmost concern,” Crawford concluded.
Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman was first to respond to Crawford’s request.
“I am sorry he is within the 300 foot of the church,” Tillman said.
“He has fell right in the place where Mr. Best is,” Tillman said. “As far as the 300 foot, I am staying with my 300 feet that I started with. I am not going to come in here every month sitting here to hear changing the ordinance that we started with. It is just going to get worser and worser if we don’t go on and stick with what we started with. That is all I am going to say,” Tillman said.
“This issue is touchy…I have been kicking it around, worrying about it, talking to people,” Vaughn said. “At one time I had talked to enough people that I was thinking about lowering that footage. The last three days I have been bombarded with people from the church that doesn’t want it,” Vaughn added.
“It is about 50-50 and that puts it in my court,” Vaughn continued, pointing to Bible scripture, which instructs Christians not to do something that offends their neighbor.
“It is obvious that the people in this courtroom from the church are offended by this, so don’t do it,” Vaughn said.
“I am going to stick by that 300 feet,” Vaughn said.
More Public Comments
Crawford then received the go ahead from supervisors to allow several people to speak on his behalf as the meeting progressed.
Sylva Rena resident Frank Brooks traced the history of the business and explained the role of the store in the community.
Brooks explained to supervisors that he did not drink beer, but had become involved in the issue because emotions were the driving force.
“This became a personal issue with me on Saturday afternoon. The chairman of the board of deacons of Sylva Rena Church called me and we visited on this matter. When it became personal was when he accused a family member of mine of coming into this location intoxicated,”
“There is no rhyme or reason for any of us to put personalities involved in this issue, especially members of a fellowship of Christians – we should be able to resolve issues like this in a Christian matter,” Brooks said.
“We, as Christians, are taught to be witnesses, not to be judges,” Brooks concluded.
Part-time Sylva Rena resident Gaylon Booker addressed supervisors next.
Booker also emphasized the role of the store in the community, but also made an appeal for supervisors to rescind the ordinance and hold a hearing to allow public input from Yalobushians.
“I think it would serve a reasonable purpose if the members of the board to rescind the current ordinance until such time until you can have an open hearing, a public hearing,” Booker said.
“You say you considered it a long time, perhaps, but I don’t know how many folks in the community got a chance to speak to you,” Booker continued.
“If anyone on the board that has any sentiment for hearing what the people have to say, I strongly recommend you move to rescind this and see if you get a second,” Booker urged.
Surrette responded, reminding them that he did not make a decision for the county on emotion, but after careful consideration.
“We just got through taking an oath of office the other night. We take an oath to God that we do those things that would be better for this county. I take that seriously,” Surrette said.
Booker’s comments were followed by the last person on the agenda to speak on the ordinance, Larry Lawler, a former owner of the Sylva Rena store.
“I just want to say on this issue that the people in Yalobusha County did vote to legalize the sale and possession of beer and light wine,” Lawler said.
“It falls to our government bodies to regulate for the public good,” Lawler said.
“You said today you have listened, you have researched, and you debated among yourselves…, you did a good job, John (Crow) did a good job.. and you don’t need to change a thing,” Lawler said.
His comments were followed by a round of applause in the courtroom, as the matter was closed for debate in the meeting.