Liquor-vote petitioners have about half the number of signatures needed

Published 1:57 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A drive to gather signatures on a petition calling for a vote liquor-by-the-drink in Picayune has about half the signatures needed to place the proposition on a ballot in a special election, said one source, who asked that his name not be used.

The source said on Thursday that proponents of the measure have about 800 signatures so far. They need about 1,500 signatures of qualified electors inside Picayune on the petition to present to the city council, which must then set the election date.

Meanwhile, opponents of the measure have placed two billboard advertisements urging Picayune voters to vote no on the proposition if it goes to an election.

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Picayune City Clerk Priscilla Daniel, who is not connected with the petition drive, will be the official who will certify the petition, if and when it is presented to the city council.

Daniel, whose job it will be to verify the names on the petition, says no one has approached her as of Thursday with any petition.

It takes 20 percent, or about 1,500 signatures, of qualified electors on the petition before it can be presented to the city council, which would then schedule an election within 45 days.

“So far I haven’t heard a thing from anybody,” she said.

As city clerk, it will be her job to certify that those signing the petition are actually registered Picayune voters and that there are no duplicate signatures on the petition.

“What I am saying is that as of today, I have not heard anything nor have I received any petitions,” she said. “I don’t favor it one way or the other; but I do have a responsibility as city clerk to make sure the petition is in order before I present it to the city council.”

Kathy Treadway, owner of Crescent Cafe, who has a petition in her business for people to sign, said it seems that the signing of the petition is going “real slow.”

“I think if it were a county-wide election, there would be more people signing the petition, but it seems like to me that people seem to be afraid to sign it,” she said.

She said that she agreed to have a petition placed in her business as a convenience to citizens who might want to sign one.

Nickie Smith, manager of the Furniture Place, which has a petition also, said her reason for supporting the initiative was strictly based on her belief that passing the proposition would attract more businesses to Picayune and broaden the tax base.

“Small businesses here cannot stand any more taxes, and the only way to help us is to broaden the tax base so that there are more businesses paying more taxes,” she said. “I don’t even drink liquor, but I favor the proposition based on economic reasons.”

“I think people who favor this are looking way down the road; they are not looking at a quick fix; they are looking at the long-term future economic growth of our city,” she said.

She said that she believes the city council and the Chamber should endorse the measure. “But don’t look for that,” she added.

Smith said she was eating at a popular restaurant in Slidell, La., recently that served liquor and mixed drinks and that three of six tables next to hers were occupied by Picayune residents.

The Picayune Item is the only concern to publicly endorse the measure. Letters to the Editor in the Item are running against the measure. However, both sides have been represented.

A sampling of letter comments:

Robert L. Willard wrote the Item on Oct. 5: “From what I have observed in 23 years of living in the Picayune area, alcohol is alive and well in the city. A visit to any of the major retail food outlets will find cases and cartons of beer going out the doors with the same quiet non-stop journey as bread and milk. Beer, whether it be 3.2 percent of alcohol, also known as military beer, or the regular alcohol content of 6 percent, the beverage is an alcoholic mixture.”

Wrote Dave Sims, former Item publisher, in a Sept. 30 letter: “…It (the prohibition on liquor) is one of the factors in our local culture that makes this a special place to live. Many of us think there is a value to that culture that should not be discarded lightly, because once we change it we can never go back. This isn’t a minor thing; it would forever change the unique culture of Pearl River County as we know it…All you have to do is whisper ‘economic growth’ in the ears of some politicians and they will embrace anything. But think about it. Do you really think liquor is the answer to Pearl River County’s future?”

Some opponents of the proposition have said that economics does not matter to them, that it is a moral issue. Opponents also have charged that increased consumption will also cause an increased need for additional police and overtime and that incidents associated with alcohol will increase.

Opponents readily speak out publicly in opposition to the proposal, but a spokesman for proponents is hard to find, and once found, has to be encouraged to go on the record.

For instance, one source, who asked that his name not be used, said that proponents so far have collected about 800 signatures.

Also, he said that there is a debate going on among supporters of whether to wait later so the proposition could be placed on the ballot in conjunction with the general election, which would generate a higher vote on the proposition.

That would be in contrast to having it voted on in a special election, where the proposition itself would be the only issue on the ballot, which, some on the other hand believe, would give the proposition a better chance of being approved.

A group called Citizens Action Team, made up of members and pastors of the Pearl River County Baptist Assoc., which consist of 38 churches, has put up two billboards opposing the proposition, one on U.S. Highway 11 North and the other on Mississippi Highway 43 South. The group also has a Web site,

The Rev. Arlice F. Grice, who was once head of the group and has been in more liquor wars in Pearl River County than any other pastor, says his reason for opposing the proposition is based on his 45 years of being a pastor. Carl Myers of Poplarville is now head of the group.

“I know all the arguments for and against liquor, but if you have been in the ministry for 45 years like I have, you would understand why I oppose it. I have seen it destroy families and destroy men who were once good providers for their family. They start out with only one drink, and it takes off from there. That’s why I am against it.”

Grice, the former pastor of Goodyear Baptist Church, is now retired and pastors Unity as an interim pastor.

He said he has contacted Cracker Barrel restaurant corporation many times and asked them to locate a restaurant here. “As you know they don’t serve alcohol,” he said. “What makes a good restaurant is good food, not that they serve alcohol.”

The law if passed would only allow liquor-by-the-drink in establishments serving food. Package stores and stand-alone bars would not be allowed.

Picayune already allows the sale of beer and light wine. The county and Poplarville are completely dry.