Today’s Courier Herald Column: AND noted by Griftdrift in the comments, there was a problem with vote tabulation in Forest Park. Apparently, the referendum passed there too.
Tybee Island is the eastern most municipality in the State of Georgia. While it is host to many visitors during warm weather months, the year round residents pride themselves on a feisty and independent nature. Tuesday, it joined the vast majority of Georgia cities and counties which held referendums to allow the sale of Alcohol on Sundays in grocery and package stores by voting yes. 85% of Tybee’s residents voted in favor of the measure, leaving little doubt where the community stands on the issue.
On the exact other side of the state, Northwest Georgia’s Ft. Oglethorpe has the claim of housing Dwight Eisenhower early in his career. The community was also home of a controversy during the last Governor’s race of whether the Ft. Oglethorpe High School Cheerleaders would be allowed to lead a prayer before football games. Ft. Oglethorpe’s residents bucked the statewide trend and voted no on Sunday sales.
Sandy Springs, the newly created city in Fulton County just north of the City of Atlanta, matched Tybee’s 85% support in approving Sunday Sales. Forest Park, on the southern stretch of I-285 just South of Atlanta, was the only metro Atlanta municipality to vote the measure down.
The battle to approve Sunday alcohol sales lasted over six years, and it ultimately became framed as a local choice issue. Though the votes in the General Assembly became among the most controversial of the last session, the campaigns surrounding most of the local referendums were quiet. There were no outward signs of a major statewide organized effort to direct turnout or votes for these local campaigns, for or against. When the votes were counted, they reflected the local community’s choice.
Tybee and Sandy Springs are easy to understand. Tybee is full of coastal spirit, which often equates to spirits. Sandy Springs is composed of a broad cross section of modern Atlantans, many of which aren’t from around here. The ties to the “Bible Belt” customs are often tangential, and even for those who are native Georgian seem to equate blue laws to bygone eras. Though very different in geography and demographics, the two have community standards which clearly support 7 day alcohol sales.
Ft Oglethorpe is also fairly easy to understand. It, along with nearby Whitfield County, Tunnel Hill, and Varnell were among the Georgia communities to say “no”. The area is among the most conservative in Georgia, both fiscally and socially. And for those who forget to plan their alcohol purchases for earlier in the week, the Tennessee or Alabama state line is a short drive away.
But then, there is Forest Park. To be charitable, the city has seen better days. Under the flight pattern of a busy Hartsfield Jackson airport and home to an emptying Ft Gillem, the city deals with its share of blight. Yet Residents who have remained within the city over the last decade as many others moved deeper into the suburbs of Atlanta have attempted to keep some sense of their own community. Their fights against strip club proliferation during the 90’s were political and legal legend. Though they were unsuccessful, the battles with the clubs that remain are frequent. Refusing to allow alcohol sales on one day a week is a sign that many of Forest Park residents have not yet given up on their vision of their town.
While the fact that some will still be disappointed that a community would vote down a measure when alcohol is already available 6 days a week on in Restaurants in many places on Sunday, they should perhaps consider what made this possible in many locales across Georgia. The concept of local control was key to finally moving this bill through the legislature. For that to matter, local community standards must hold.
The lopsided nature of the number of votes that passed versus those that did not should not indicate that Sunday sales is stronger statewide than it is. Many locals have yet to hold a referendum, deferring to when regularly scheduled elections will be held. Many may never hold such a referendum. The local leaders who set such referendums are charged with knowing their constituents and their wishes best.
For those who wish to rush to stores this Sunday to mark the occasion, be forewarned. There are varying dates when these laws take effect, depending on language in each local referendum. While some are scheduled to be implemented “immediately” upon approval, the votes will likely not be certified until at least next week.
Thus, should you choose to toast this occasion, plan ahead again this Sunday. And should you choose to abstain, that’s still your choice too. That’s the beauty of choice. It’s a great by product of freedom.