Almost 100 cities and counties in Georgia are holding November referendums on whether to allow Sunday package alcohol sales, made possible for the first time this year when Gov. Nathan Deal signed Senate Bill 10 into law.
Columbus is not among those cities and counties, nor is it likely to be.
Columbus is among Georgia cities that have no general election this year and have decided not to spend the money on a special election. Such a special election here would cost taxpayers about $100,000, according to Nancy Boren, the city’s director of elections and registration.
Local businessman Karl Douglass brought the issue up recently during his regular appearance on radio station Foxie 105. He said the expense of a special election is “a genuine concern,” but if Columbus wants to stay competitive with other cities, it might have to see beyond the initial expense.
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“I’m not really for it or against it,” Douglass said. “I just think it’s interesting that we say we want to be competitive with other like cities in the state, and they’re all taking this initiative up, and we’re not.”
Two of Georgia’s other second-tier cities, Savannah and Macon, have general elections scheduled and will have the alcohol referendum on their ballots. Augusta, like Columbus, has no scheduled fall election and has opted not to spend the money to hold one.
Of the 97 cities and counties holding referendums, most are in the Metro Atlanta area. Only a handful are in west central Georgia. Newnan, Americus, Albany and West Point will have the question placed on their Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, is actively campaigning against the effort to “turn Sunday into another Saturday,” as he puts it. He said as far as he knows, all the cities and counties holding alcohol referendums already had general elections scheduled.
“I haven’t heard of any calling for special elections,” he said.
Columbus residents shouldn’t expect to see one, nor is there a clamor for one locally, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said. Aside from one email and a couple of inquiries from the media, she said it appears to be a non-issue.
“I have not heard a thing from an elected official or anybody else trying to get up a group to instigate it,” Tomlinson said.
Even if a group wanted to push for a special election, it would have to push quickly, Boren said. First, Columbus Council would have to vote to hold the election, then the board of elections would have to make all the arrangements necessary, including printing ballots and getting Department of Justice approval.
“It’s conceivable they could call for it,” she said. “But they would have to do it soon.”
A majority of councilors have said they would vote to put the referendum on a ballot next year, but none expressed any interest in calling for a special election.
The first ballot the referendum could be put on would be the 2012 presidential preference primary. The exact date for that has not been set, but it’s expected to be in February or March.
For his part, Luquire would prefer the referendum be on a November general election ballot because he thinks that would favor his position.
“It draws more people, and I believe more rational people will vote against it,” he said.