Liquor might make it to county after all

Published 12:37 am Tuesday, March 10, 2009

There was mention of guns, illicit sex, liquor, firearms, racism and religion at Monday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, with tempers almost flaring and patience wearing thin.

The issue at the center of most of the subjects was the discussion of a legislative bill that is still technically active and which, if passed, can allow some areas in Pearl River County to serve liquor. Those areas, described as “qualified resort areas,” include, among others, Hide-Away-Lake, Millbrook and the proposed Millard lake project.

The Bill, #1441, with an amendment added by Sen. Sid Albritton, passed the Senate vote on Feb. 20, but it was returned to the House for reconsideration . A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Legislature said the still bill could pass because it is still active. It must go through a conference committee and then pass the two Houses without further changes. “There is still hope,” she said.

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“Pearl River County has been attached to a bill in the Senate to legalize the sale of hard liquor in resort areas,” said Carl Meyers, one of six Baptist preachers, all members of Citizens Action Team, who appeared before the board to question the supervisors on whether any of them had been a party to the Bill. The group was organized three years ago, according to Meyers, to help defeat the referendum to allow liquor in the county. Sixty-three percent of the county residents who voted on the referendum, voted against it.

“What I want to ask is if any of you asked any legislators to include us in this House Bill?” asked Meyers. “Is someone asking for this to help the county lake project?”

Board president and supervisor for District 1, Anthony Hales said that he had been unaware of the bill until recently, did not know who was included, or what the wording was, but he had received a phone call in the recent past and was questioned about how did the board feel about it.

“There was no request from me,” said Hales. As for the lake project, he said the person who called him said that the lake project would probably fall under the category of resort, but “there was strictly no request from me (Hales) to include the lake or Pearl River County in this bill.”

Hales went on to say that the organization and residents opposed to Bill needed to go directly to their senators and legislators and fight the battle there. “If there is a bill before the state representatives that you feel is detrimental to the citizens of this county, then you need to go to them and ask them what are they doing for the residents of Pearl River County,” Hales said .

As each of the men told the board it was the board’s responsibility to send a message to the legislature that the county was against liquor being allowed, Hales reiterated that they needed to approach the people directly responsible for the bill, not the county.

“You need to go to the elected officials,” said Hales. “They are trying to shove it back on the board of supervisors.”

The ministers kept pushing, each speaking up, oftentimes speaking over one another. “You could request on the behalf of the people of Pearl River County who have already voted they did not want liquor, booze, whatever you want to call it, in Pearl River County, that’s already two different times,” said one of the men, “You’re the elected body, you can make a request that we don’t want any or any part of it to become a resort.”

Hales said that he understood what they were asking, but once again said he believes the men should go to their state legislators and ask them to be accountable for the bill, not the board of supervisors. “If these legislators are going to stand behind something and then try and hide, I say, don’t send it back here and put it in our lap and say because the board of supervisors requested it, because the board of supervisors did not,” said Hales.

A woman attending the meeting agreed with Hales, saying that even though Pearl River County had voted against allowing liquor, that others had also voted for it, adding that she felt it was a “Catholic view versus a Baptist view.”

Tempers began to flare as the members of Citizens Action Team kept demanding that the board take action, declaring that this matter was a moral issue, not a religious one.

Then Hales, saying that he considered himself a Christian, said that although he understood this issue to stop liquor from being allowed in the county, there were actually more destructive things happening in Pearl River County that no one seemed to be stepping up to the plate to address.

“I have a problem,” said Hales. “I consider myself a Christian, and I don’t know if you consider yourself one or not, but people will come out of the woodwork when it comes to liquor, but there are many more sins that are done in Pearl River County — racism, prejudice, hatred, jealousy ….”

Before Hales could finish his statement, one of the men called out, “Racism is not going to kill my six month old child, but get a drunk driver on the road.”

Hales said after the meeting that he wished he had immediately addressed what the man had said, noting that, indeed, racism does kill. “I just want to reiterate what I was trying to say,” Hales said . “He said racism does not kill, but racism does kill. It kills hopes, it kills dreams, it takes lives. Racism has killed a lot of potential in Mississippi. Racism breeds racism.”

Hudson Holliday, District 3 supervisor, spoke up, saying he had “mixed emotions,” about the liquor issue, and admitting he occasionally had a drink, and said, “I, personally, do not have a problem with making a motion asking the legislature to turn this down.”

Holliday said the reason he made the motion was not so much that liquor could possibly be allowed into areas of the county, but because he felt the “resort” area definition in itself was discriminatory. “How can one small portion be allowed to have something someone else can not,” Holliday said.

Sandy 0 Smith seconded the motion. Another woman in the audience suggested to board members that they speak to their constituents first before making a decision. “Pearl River County being a dry county is mute since everyone around us is wet,” she said.

In the end, three of the board members, Hales, Charles Culpepper and Patrick Lee voted against making a formal proclamation to the legislature, while Holliday and Smith voted in favor.