March 7, 2012 11:47:52 AM
Forcing relocation to a larger adjacent room, a Caledonia Town Hall meeting audience of about 30 Tuesday night witnessed an ongoing dispute between the Board of Aldermen and the new owner of Cal-City Grocery, Jeff Doty, of Aberdeen. Doty last month asked the board to issue a variance, allowing the store to sell cold beer within the city limits -- as it has done for nearly three decades -- but the board failed to second Mayor George Gerhart's motion to do so.
A 1945 ordinance, followed by a grandfather clause in 1982, granted permission to the store's operators to sell alcohol, but since the death of owner Bill Pearrow in September 2010, the future has been uncertain. Town Attorney Jeff Smith said the store closing for more than 24 hours during the transition between owners rendered void the grandfather clause.
When the aldermen, in February, failed to grant a variance on the 1982 ordinance prohibiting cold beer sales within the city limits, the issue appeared to be settled.
But Doty, and attorney Steve Wallace, Tuesday argued the aldermen may not have followed proper protocol, during the February meeting.
Doty argued Smith taking minutes of the meeting, in Town Clerk Judy Whitcomb's absence, was a violation.
And Wallace, who is probating the Pearrow estate and representing the family, said he can find no Attorney General opinion stating the grandfather clause was voided when the store closed. Additionally, Wallace noted no period of time was given for public comment on the issue.
"If there is no time to comment, and the grandfather clause was not (voided), I have to agree with Mr. Doty," Wallace said Tuesday.
Doty told the aldermen he has a beer license, issued in February by the state, and he intends to use it.
"I'm not here to start a war or start a battle, I'm just trying to run a business," Doty said. "I'm not on a witch hunt. I'm trying to come to this community, and -- I swear -- do good things. I'm not trying to start trouble. I'm just trying to open a legitimate business."
Gerhart said he spoke with a lot of local residents and heard opinions both for and against the sale of beer at Cal-City Grocery. Most of the comments were in favor of it, he said, adding he favors the sale of alcohol, because it will bring additional revenue to Caledonia.
Gerhart Tuesday told Doty to do what he felt he had to do and stopped short of giving him permission to violate the town's ordinance.
"I'm going to do what I said I was going to do," Doty responded.
"Thank you, Jeff, and good luck," replied the mayor.
This morning, Gerhart said he simply told Doty to pursue whatever course of action he plans to take, but he can't give him permission to sell beer.
"If he gets a beer license, and he's got the AG opinion that says he can do that, I have no problem with it," Gerhart said. "If he finds out that our meeting and vote was moot and void, he could go ahead and sell beer or go ahead and open the store. There was never anything in the ordinance about (what would happen if) it should be closed down for two days or two hours or two years."
Doty could not be reached for comment this morning.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
1. Police searching for rape suspect COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Sexual battery trial for former professor begins STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
4. Primary election opens on Tuesday COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Tuesday's Democratic primaries could decide 4 local Oktibbeha seats STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY