Ashland officials gave first reading on Thursday to an amended city alcohol ordinance, which sets hours for Sunday sales.
Residents on both sides of the issue spoke out at Thursday’s crowded Board of City Commissioners meeting in the City Building, which followed last week’s special election in two downtown precincts where voters overwhelmingly approved alcohol sales. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, setting Sunday sale times to be 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Monday for by-the-drink establishments and 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. for package stores.
“The vote, as it was taken, as it was petitioned, was for alcohol sales on Sunday from noon to 1 a.m.,” said City Attorney Richard “Sonny” Martin, explaining the city’s ordinance.
Despite initial confusion about whether all establishments would be covered in the vote, city officials believe now, after discussing the issue with the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control officers, that the petition and subsequent ballot question allows alcohol sales on Sunday in both restaurant and package stores.
Under KRS laws governing alcohol sales, it is within the city’s power to set local Sunday hours for sales. The commission could have approved Sunday sales without a special election.
Ashland’s amended ordinance is expected to become law after a second reading on March 21. It will then go into effect after being advertised, said Michelle Merchant, Ashland’s Beverage Control Officer.
Merchant said businesses wishing to sell distilled spirits or wine on Sunday will then have to apply and be approved for a license to do so. Malt beverage sales, including beer, are a separate license, but businesses with existing licenses will not have to obtain another license to sell on Sundays, she said. Sunday sales could begin at the end of the month.
Commissioners Kevin Gunderson, Marty Gute and Larry Brown all said they were casting their votes in favor of the ordinance because voters had approved them. Each had publicly stated before the vote that they would follow the will of the people on the issue. Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs has long supported the Sunday sales. She helped organizers gather signatures on the initial petition and worked to get out the vote. She did not speak on Thursday.
Despite the applause that followed Commissioners approval of the ordinance, there remains opposition.
Pastor Floyd Paris, of Unity Baptist Church, spoke publicly at the meeting against Sunday sales. He again questioned whether the vote was a mandate from voters, citing voter turnout. Only 159 of 1,500 eligible voters cast ballots last week.
“To change a whole city’s future based on that is a mighty big gamble,” said Paris. He believes the rest of the citizens of Ashland should have had a say too, and told officials he had gathered 160 signatures of residents opposed to sales in several days.
Paris told them he felt the city was “lowering our standards to mediocrity” by approving Sunday sales and conforming with the practice of surrounding areas. He questioned whether Christians in Ohio and West Virginia, in addition to locals, would continue to see Ashland as a destination on Sundays because of the move.
“We have something that most cities don’t have. We have the right to have Sunday dinners in restaurants without alcohol,” said Paris. “I think there is going to be negative economic impact down the road; the commissioners didn’t seem to want to look at that.”
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Paris described the city’s action as “rushed.” He questioned whether all commissioners were eligible to vote on the ordinance and if they had reviewed the ethics laws on the issue.
He said he also felt there should have been more discussion about setting sale hours. Setting drink sales for after 4 p.m. would give Christians time to eat out in restaurants after church before alcohol sales started, he said.
Ashland resident Paul Castle spoke on behalf of supporters. Castle lives in the Central precinct where Sunday sales were approved and is a small business owner.
“From a business perspective,” Castle told the commission, “the best thing that you can do as leaders is to give us the tools to run our business and to open business and do business.”
He pointed out no business will be required to sell alcohol on Sundays.
“Please help our downtown and give our restaurants tools,” said Castle. “We need the economic progress in our town.”
Castle said he believes if a city-wide vote were taken it would have passed overwhelmingly.
“I know there is a vocal, small minority who is very organized, and a lot of times they pack these meetings, but two-thirds of the people who voted in this election voted for it. That is an overwhelming majority.”
Organizers say the argument that voter turnout was low is “misinformation.”
Ashley Layman, a member of the committee who organized the petition, said turnout for the election was not below historical standards for special elections, according to her research. Voter turnout was only 27 percent during November’s General Election, which included local and national races.
During that election, she noted, “Each commissioner received around 4,000 votes.” Special elections typically draw only about half of the turnout of a general election, she said. Turnout was just below 14 percent last Tuesday.
“The committee responsible for this went to each door. About two-thirds of folks answered. Of the folks that answered, it was 3 to 1 (in support). That was reflected in the vote. It was about a 3 to 1 margin,” Layman said. “I think its a really exciting day for the city of Ashland. I feel it’s very important for the continued progress of bringing corporations and industries in to provide a large option of activities and different types of venues for these folks to visit.
“I think it’s really important to show that we are trying, when people are trying and wanting to make their city better, people want to invest in that.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org