The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 5, 2013

County commission takes no action on liquor sales

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Garfield County commissioners took no action Monday on a proposed ballot question to allow sale of liquor by the drink on Sundays, deferring the issue until it is requested by a petition of eligible county voters.

Enid city commissioners Mike Stuber and Tammy Wilson appeared before the county commissioners Monday morning to request Sunday liquor sales be put on a ballot for county voters.

Restaurants in the county currently cannot serve drinks with an alcohol content greater than 3.2 percent on Sundays.

The state currently is split almost in half over the issue, with 35 counties already permitting restaurants to sell wine, liquor and strong beer on Sundays.

Stuber told county commissioners Monday he and Wilson want Garfield County voters to be able to decide whether to follow the growing trend in Sunday liquor sales.

“What we’re asking for is to allow the people of Garfield County to vote on it, and see if they want it,” Stuber said.

Stuber said the main reason for requesting the ballot question is to pave the way for more economic development.

“We’re trying to recruit more restaurants and businesses, and it’s difficult to recruit these businesses, especially the large chains, without (liquor) sales on Sundays,” Stuber said. “They’ll say, ‘If you don’t have that, we’re not going to go in,’ because it is a big portion of their profits.”

Stuber said the city’s efforts to recruit restaurant chains such as Logan’s Roadhouse, Santa Fe Cattle Co., Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Charleston’s are hampered by the county’s current restrictions on Sunday liquor sales.

Wilson said Enid already has lost out on two such chain restaurants specifically because of the county’s current liquor laws.

“It’s come down to an economic development issue,” Wilson said. “They’ve told us, ‘We’re not coming unless you do this.’”

Garfield County Commission Chairman Marc Bolz said other communities, including Stillwater, have managed to attract large chain restaurants without Sunday liquor sales. Payne County voters approved Sunday liquor by the drink sales last September.

“I’m not really comfortable tying our economic development to liquor by the drink,” Bolz said. “I feel if that’s the only way to advance our economic development, we need to look at the direction we’re headed in.”

Bolz said as a firefighter and EMT, he’s also opposed to expanding access to liquor in the county.

“I’m not in favor of anything that’s going to contribute to putting more people drinking and driving on our roads,” Bolz said.

Wilson said people inclined to getting intoxicated already can do so on 3.2 beer.

“People who want to get drunk on Sunday are going to do it whether or not we allow liquor by the drink on Sundays,” Wilson said.

Garfield County District 3 Commissioner James Simunek said he wanted to see any ballot question regarding liquor by the drink on Sundays to come from a petition of the people.

“The way I see this happening is it going to a vote of the people,” Simunek said. “But, I would like to see an initiative petition come to us before it goes to a vote.”

Stuber and Wilson presented the commissioners with about 40 letters from residents who support offering liquor by the drink on Sundays. Wilson said “unscientific polls” of the community have showed people to be in “overwhelming support” of liquor by the drink on Sundays.

“I don’t think getting the signatures would be a problem, but we wanted to do this together,” Wilson said.

Simunek said the county and city “can do this together, but we need to do it the right way.”

District 2 Commissioner Reese Wedel said 2,694 signatures would have to be collected from eligible county voters to place Sunday liquor by the drink on a ballot by petition.

Stuber said the required signatures could be obtained “within a week.”

Stuber and Wilson are not the only Enid city commissioners in favor of allowing liquor by the drink sales on Sundays.

Enid Mayor Bill Shewey said he’s in favor of sending the issue to a vote of the people.

“I think it’s a good idea, and I think sending it to a vote is the right way to do it,” Shewey said.

He said allowing Sunday liquor sales would put Enid “in line with more cities our size, and it would help recruit restaurants to Enid as well as help our sales tax income.”

Ward 1 Commissioner Ron Janzen said the change is needed to bring in more restaurants to Enid.

“I don’t have any problem with it, and I don’t think it would create any problems we don’t already have,” Janzen said. “It might actually help us attract some new restaurants, and if there’s something this city needs right now, it’s more restaurants.”

Ward 4 Commissioner Drew Ritchie said the proposal to allow liquor by the drink on Sunday is “a fantastic idea that’s long overdue.”

“We have executive session meetings to discuss recruiting restaurants to Enid, but in those discussions, they are hesitant to come here, because in Enid, they are limited by our antiquated policies,” Ritchie said.

Sean Byrne, executive director of PreventionWorkz Regional Prevention Center, declined to say whether he’s in favor of or opposed to extending liquor by the drink sales to Sundays in Garfield County. Byrne said it’s “not a simple issue with a simple answer.”

“I think this is an opportunity to look at the big picture regarding our local alcohol laws,” Byrne said. “What are some changes we can make that will impact drunk driving and underage drinking, which are the primary concerns of everyone in Enid, while we’re looking at allowing Sunday sales? By having an open conversation about policies that work, and what doesn’t, I think we can create a change that is beneficial for the entire community.”

Byrne said he has “reached out to” Wilson and Stuber, “and (I) know they are open to looking at the whole issue and doing what’s in the best interest of Enid.”