By Jack Gurner
It took the founding fathers 4543 words to craft the Constitution of the United States of America. It took city fathers 4901 words to craft a revised version of the beer and light wine ordinance.
The lengthy new ordinance – which has been rumored to be in the works for months – was approved unanimously Tuesday night, Dec. 2, at the regular first-Tuesday meeting of the mayor and board of alderman.
Depending on which side you favor, the ordinance either controls a product that is destructive to the health and welfare of the community or overly restricts the sale of a legal product, creating problems for legitimate businesses and consumers.
Mayor Larry Hart, who is the driving force behind the new law, called the changes “tweaks” to the 2007 ordinance. That document was hastily prepared after officials of the former administration were caught off guard by the overwhelming vote for beer and light wine.
Cliff Lawson, one of the leaders of the Yalobusha Progressive Association, has a different take on what happened at the Dec. 2 meeting. Lawson and the YPA pushed to allow county residents an opportunity to vote on beer and light wine in 2007.
“I’m disappointed, though not surprised, that the city didn’t ask for public comment before amending the beer regulations,” Lawson told the Herald. “The new ordinance is capricious; it prohibits a patron from enjoying a beer in a restaurant bar before a meal—although hard liquor is just fine. The reporting requirements for small businesses are arbitrary and onerous, and the Mayor and his aldermen continue to impose their antiquated ban on Sunday sales.”
“This ordinance unnecessarily restricts the rights of consumers and retailers and unfairly burdens small businesses and restaurants,” he added. “In my opinion, it makes Water Valley a less-attractive option for potential residents and businesses.”
Lawson is much more knowledgeable today than he was seven years ago when the YPA coalition of long-time residents and new people took on the cause to let the people of the county make a choice about beer sales. But, he probably still has a hard time understanding the feelings many people here have toward beer.
Water Valley has a strange relationship with the beverage that goes back to the city’s rough and tumble past. The city was a railroad town and at the end of the 19th century, railroad towns were known for their vices. Liquor, beer and loose women were to be found in large quantities in the Valley. Saloons with colorful names like the Bay Horse, located on the north end of downtown, took in lots of money and provided a place for hard-working railroad men to gather and let off a little steam.
As the forces of decency took over the town, the saloons and bawdy houses were closed. The upstanding women of the town were able to keep their husbands home on Saturday night and the money they usually spent went into the collection plate on Sunday morning.
Soon liquor was outlawed outright, but beer was available until 1937, when a very low key election was held countywide that voted out the beverage. It only attracted 712 dry votes and 417 wet. But, it was enough to eliminate beer from every corner of Yalobusha…sort of.
There are some who believe that beer – as well as hard liquor – might have been available illegally from certain individuals, called bootleggers, who even provided delivery service to their clients. Local taxi drivers and delivery boys could be seen dropping off plain-wrapped packages to some of the city’s most prominent business and civic leaders.
Many of those same prominent individuals were among the 90 names attached to a pro-beer ad that appeared in the North Mississippi Herald in 1950. A city-only election on a hot day in July sent Water Valley residents to the polls where they voted down a proposition that would have made beer legal within the city limits.
It was more than a half-century later before beer raised its foamy head again. There’s no point in attempting to rehash the 2007 beer election since most who are reading this were around at the time. That episode in Yalobusha history is legend and has the makings for a very good book.
But, what was learned from that election is that there is a very small group of people who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong – including the majority of Yalobusha voters who were for the proposition. It passed by a two-to-one margin, 2,915 to 1,474, with about 44 percent of the registered voters turning out.
For many, the restrictive law passed in the wake of the vote was a slap in the face to the majority. Now, an even more restrictive city ordinance has been passed. While the sale of alcoholic beverages should be regulated, the attempt to micromanage every detail of a perfectly legal activity and overburdening the police is simply sad considering there are many more important things that city government needs to do for it citizens.