WATER VALLEY – The hot topic was beer at the April first-Tuesday meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen, Apr. 7.
Amos Harvey, a brewer and operations manager at Yalobusha Brewery, had requested to appear before the board as a concerned citizen. He began his comments by outlining his deep Mississippi roots. “I’m proudly from Mississippi. And, glad to reside here in Water Valley and be a positive representation of what Mississippians can be.”
He went on to explain that he and his wife, Coulter Fussell, serve as volunteers at Davidson Elementary School and coach sports. Harvey noted that his wife and two sons were in attendance. “We are invested in Water Valley and love this town.”
His reason for appearing at the board meeting was to discuss the newly revised beer ordinance “which has been pretty controversial since it was passed surprisingly without knowledge of the general public.”
“What is the big deal with beer in this town,” Harvey asked. “Beer was voted in two-to-one and from what I understand it is the responsibility of the elected officials to represent the people who voted it in.”
He added that the new version of the city’s beer ordinance “came into play with no input or consideration from the people who own businesses who are affected by the ordinance.”
Harvey said that he was still trying to figure out who the ordinance serves, “because it is not the people who voted in beer or the business owners who happen to sell beer.”
“It’s confusing to me that beer is thought to be such a big problem in Water Valley that it has to have a complete, separate, very restricting ordinance,” said Harvey, “when liquor and wine seem to be fine and accepted in this town as a whole.”
“We have state laws that set legal limits (for the sale and consumption) of all alcohol. And if it is good enough for the state, it seems that those should be good enough for the cities in Mississippi,” he said.
After commenting on sections of the new ordinance, Harvey suggested that the distance requirements be revisited. He also asked about the two restaurants being “grandfathered in,” referring to issues over separate restroom for males and females.
He also questioned who are the mayor and aldermen trying to keep from selling and consuming beer.
After Harvey’s comments, Mayor Larry Hart asked board attorney John Crow to address the “grandfather” issue.
Crow responded that there is no “grandfather clause” in the ordinance or in any beer ordinance. He explained that existing establishments that sell beer are not being required to do something that materially affects them financially.”
“The purpose of this ordinance is not to put people out of business or to keep people from going into business,” Crow continued.
Harvey asked Crow specifically about the “bathrooms,” referring again to the section of the ordinance that specifies that establishments that sell beer for on-premises consumption have separate bathrooms for males and females.
“Because that is a material thing,” Crow responded.
Harvey asked about the section of the ordinance that requires reporting of sales figures, noting that the figures “are a material thing.”
“That’s to keep someone legitimate,” the board attorney answered.
“And the state does that?” Harvey asked.
“I don’t know what the state does,” Crow said.
After commenting on problems with non-compliance under the old ordinance, Crow said to Harvey, “Your remarks quite frankly didn’t make a lot of sense and there was not a lot of authority backing up your remarks.”
“As a citizen, I hope you can listen to somebody speaking to you,” Harvey said.
“I am listening to you,” said Crow. “You’re giving me opinions.”
Both Crow and Harvey were talking at the same time. Harvey asked Crow if he would listen to his remarks and study them and then get back to him.”
Crow said, “I don’t want to study your remarks.”
“Thanks for representing us,” Harvey said.
“I don’t represent you sir, I represent this board,” Crow said.
At this point Mayor Hart brought the conversation back on track by asking Harvey what his question was about article 19 in the ordinance.
After a few more minutes of back and forth on the ordinance Crow said, “You have got to put a little common sense with this. And you, sir, are not doing that.”
After additional discussion of possible scenarios involving enforcement situations, the mayor added that not everything that could come up can be addressed in an ordinance. “But, assume that someone intentionally violates this ordinance. You’ve got to have enforcement.”
“It’s more for the rule than the exception,” said Hart.
As the discussion was winding down, Alderman-at-Large Donald Gray added, “Our police chief and our limited police force are certainly not going to go around looking for something like that.” He was referring to one of the hypothetical situations in which a consumer might be in violation of the ordinance by ordering a beer and food and then having to leave before being served the food.
“They have too much other major things going on,” he said.
Alderman Larry Bell commented that the people voted in beer. “I think they ought to be able to sell cold beer. Every establishment ought to be able to sell cold beer.”
His comment drew a round of applause from the audience.
“You voted it in…that’s what people ought to be able to do,” Bell said.
Harvey gave the example that someone can drive up to a liquor store and buy a pint of whiskey and start drinking it if they have an alcohol problem.
“I agree that cold or hot should not be an issue. It’s the public’s choice. Maybe that something for another day that could be addressed.” Harvey said.
Audio of the 24 minute discussion is available online at: https://soundcloud.com/jack-gurner/water-valley-miss-city-board-april-7-2015 or you can view the meeting via local cable television.