May 6, 2014 10:26:21 AM
For a group that prides themselves on bending over backward to facilitate economic development, the Starkville aldermen's latest move to quash discussions on amending alcohol sales is completely inconsistent with its mantra.
An agenda item inviting discussions about relaxing the city's alcohol rules was entered by Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard last week, a move that would allow more restaurants to open their doors around Main Street, Russell Street and Miss. Highway 182.
The amendment would have reduced the "buffer zone" between restaurants/bars that sell alcohol and churches, schools, daycares and other specified facilities from 250 feet to 100 feet. Before the change could come up for a vote, at least two public hearings would be required to gauge public sentiment.
How radical was Maynard's proposal? It wasn't.
The change would have made the city's rules consistent with state code. In fact, convenience stores and other businesses that sell alcohol for off-site consumption already can sell alcohol if they are located 100 feet or more from churches or schools.
Shortly after learning of the proposal, Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins went on the offensive, saying the reduction in distance would cause worshipers to skip out on services and prevent God's work from happening at churches.
Perkins reportedly exercised political capital to flip at least one potential "Yea" vote on the matter after Maynard believed he had political support, but the city's most senior representative categorically denied the allegation Friday.
He did find time, however, to applaud Maynard's decision to pull the item, saying Starkville should not even broach the discussion because of its divisive nature. Perkins apparently defines "divisive" as any idea he opposes.
The best way to accurately assess public opinion on the matter would be to address the issue as an agenda item as Maynard proposed. That would provide the board an opportunity to hear its constituents, then vote its conscience. Instead, Perkins used his influence to stifle an honest, fair discussion.
Like it or not, alcohol sales in Starkville account for a large chunk of taxes that help go fund many city services, including the Starkville Parks Commission.
The city is a diverse community capable of having laws that protect both its restaurant and church communities.
Burdening businesses with unnecessary restrictions is exactly the kind of thing this board says it opposes. To refuse to even have a discussion on the subject based simply on a refusal to respect differing views is unhealthy and an abuse of power. It is the method of an autocrat.
Is this really the way Starkville citizens want to be governed?