Alcohol access was the primary topic at the Senoia City Council’s first work session.
The council will be holding work sessions once a month at 6 p.m., before the 7 p.m. meeting set for the first Monday of each month.
The council discussed a potential new petition drive to bring package liquor sales to the city, and ordinances that would expand the city’s open container rules in the downtown entertainment district.
Georgia law lays out a very specific and detailed process for bringing liquor stores to a community. The process starts with a petition signed by 35 percent of the registered voters in the community, and the petition itself must meet specific requirements.
If the petition is successful, the issue then goes to the voters for a referendum. If a majority of voters approve the referendum, the local government must pass rules regulating liquor stores.
Senoia Mayor Dub Pearman said that there is at least one interested party considering starting a petition drive. The city cannot sponsor the drive, nor can any entity that receives public money.
Each petition drive must have a sponsor, and that sponsor must be a “registered and qualified” voter in the jurisdiction. Those wishing to sponsor a petition drive should contact the Coweta Board of Elections and Registration for information before getting started.
If a petition drive is started, it would be at least the fourth attempt in Senoia. The most recent attempt was in 2011. The Senoia Downtown Development Authority had hoped to sponsor the 2011 petition drive, but was unable to because it received public money, Senoia City Attorney Drew Whalen said at the time.
There’s no limit on how long a petition drive can last, but if the petition is submitted and found lacking, or if voters reject the idea, there is a two-year waiting period. In 2017, based on the number of registered voters in Senoia at the time, a petition would have needed 1,054 signatures. The number needed is based on the number of registered voters during the general election held prior to the petition being submitted.
“Whatever the voters decide is the direction we will take,” Pearman said.
Georgia’s rules for package liquor petitions and referenda are in O.C.G.A. 3-4-41.
As for open container, the city currently allows people to have open containers of alcohol in the downtown entertainment district, but only as part of a special event sponsored by the DDA.
Monday's discussion was about allowing people to take drinks from downtown restaurants and walk around to other places in the entertainment district when special events aren’t taking place. Under the current ordinance, the alcohol would have to be served in special cups.
There was discussion of having the open containers allowed only on weekends – but there were questions about enforcement and confusion.
Having specific days would be confusing for restaurant employees and diners, said Councilman Dale Reeder, who owns a downtown Newnan restaurant. “If we’re going to do it, let’s just make it acceptable in the entertainment district all the time,” he said.
City Manager Harold Simmons suggested trying an ordinance that allows open container in the entertainment district on any day, with a sunset clause for six months. After six months, the city will have enough information to determine whether to continue to allow open container or to stop it.
If the city were to start with weekends only, they wouldn’t know how things would work during the week, and would have to make ongoing incremental changes, Simmons said.
“I don’t see it being a major problem,” Simmons said. “I see it solving more problems – of business owners being able to get people in to enjoy downtown.”
Simmons said after the meeting that he frequently gets calls from people who have visited other cities and are able to walk around with a drink – and they want to know why they can’t do the same in Senoia.
Work sessions are just to discuss issues – not to vote on them. Any new ordinance changing the open container rules will be brought before the council at a future meeting.