A judge has voided Pigeon Forge’s liquor-by-the-drink election and ordered a new vote.
From Jim Balloch’s report: It all fermented down to this: In the controversial Nov. 6 referendum that approved liquor by the drink for Pigeon Forge, there was no fraud.
But a series of errors by poll workers that let nearly 300 ineligible people vote are enough to invalidate the election and require a new poll, Chancellor Telford Forgety ruled Thursday.
“It is clear that this election must be set aside,” Forgety said. “The results of the election are without question incurably uncertain.”
He added: “There is no evidence of any intentional fraud by anybody. No evidence whatsoever … (these were) good faith mistakes.”
Forgety ordered a new election held in 45 to 60 days, as state law requires when an election has been overturned.
With dozens of spectators on hand to see the proceedings, the case was moved from the small Chancery Court courtroom to the larger room where Sevier County Commission holds its public meetings.
The Sevier County Election Commission will schedule an emergency meeting for as soon as possible, within public notice requirements, for the purpose of scheduling a new election, said the commission’s lawyer Dennis Francis.
The meeting could be sometime next week, and the election itself will likely be held “sometime in the middle of March,” Francis said.
The effort to overturn Pigeon Forge’s controversial liquor by the drink referendum got a big boost on Wednesday when election officials said they could no longer support the validity of the vote, reports the News Sentinel. Moreover, the Sevier County Election Commission declared the results of the Nov. 6 vote are “incurably uncertain,” and instructed their lawyer Dennis Francis to stipulate that to Chancellor Telford Forgety today, when a trial over the election is scheduled to begin.
The phrase “incurably uncertain” is a legal one that carries significant weight in cases that challenge an election result. It is a key element of the lawsuit filed by Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, seeking to void the election and have a new one.
“But it is all still left up to the judge,” Francis said. The Election Commission’s vote to make the declaration and instruct Francis to stipulate was unanimous. The commission said there is no evidence of election fraud in the highly controversial vote.
Jim Balloch reports on new curiosities coming to light in a Pigeon Forge liquor-by-the-drink referendum that was decided by 100 votes with, reportedly,, 303 more people voting than were registered to cast ballots in city elections. It’s already inspired a lawsuit and now it appears the FBI is interested.
But the real curiosity is the apparent move by some companies to make people eligible – as property owners – by giving them an interest, temporarily, in property within the city limits. An excerpt Pigeon Forge City Hall is a split precinct. Besides city voters, many county residents who live outside the city vote there in countywide, state and national elections.
In sworn depositions, poll workers say they were instructed to allow nonresidents to vote in the referendum, that many who did not live in the city were given liquor by the drink ballots, and that there was a lot of confusion that day because different ballots were required for combinations of races.
“I’m sure that contributed to the problem,” Francis said. “I cannot disagree with (poll workers’ statements) that it was a chaotic and confusing day.”
Sevier County property records show some spurious land transactions that were the basis of votes cast by more than a dozen nonresidents who voted as property owners. The votes were perfectly legal, according to state election officials, even though the property ownership claimed by those voters was a 1 percent interest in extremely valuable commercial properties.
Those interests were given — for free — shortly before the election, by four Knoxville-based corporations with numerous links to developers and restaurant businesses in Pigeon Forge.
There are also questions about the validity of what are listed on voter rosters as residential addresses for some Pigeon Forge voters. These include mail drops, a vacant lot, and a building that houses a tattoo parlor and check cashing business.
The News Sentinel was unable to locate some of those individuals for whom those addresses were listed. Some others were found residing in Pigeon Forge residences, and said they used other locations as a mailing address that should not have been listed as their residences.
The News Sentinel has learned that two FBI agents from the Knoxville office recently met with about six members of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, a group that opposed liquor by the drink and has filed a lawsuit challenging the election.
The FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation, or even say if it has made a preliminary inquiry about a possible investigation
…”I was told that whoever came to my table, if their name was on my roster, they got to vote on the referendum,” even if they did not have a Pigeon Forge address or property, poll worker Mary Louise Beck said in a sworn deposition. She was one of four Election Commission employees subpoenaed to give depositions in CCCPF’s lawsuit challenging the election.
More depositions are being taken this week. Trial is set for Jan. 10-11.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The top two Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly support allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets, and the influx of new GOP lawmakers is giving them the opportunity to reshape key committees where efforts to make that change have long been blocked by opponents.
Under the state’s restrictive three-tiered beverage control system, every drop of alcohol is supposed to flow from the manufacturer to a wholesale distributor and then to the retailers. And any bottle stronger than beer can only be bought at one of 501 liquor stores around the state.
The latest proposed overhaul would give counties that currently allow liquor sales to hold a referendum on whether to remove liquor stores’ exclusive right to sell wine.
“It’s one of those issues we’ve battled forever,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told The Associated Press. “And I think the opponents have held it off for about as long as they can hold it off.”
Fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville agreed.
“This has been coming for a long time,” she said. “It’s certain that the public would like to see that, and hopefully we can work out something that is a win-win for everybody.”
A lawsuit has been filed challenging the results of a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in the town of Pigeon Forge, reports the News Sentinel. The lawsuit filed on behalf of Concerned Churches & Citizens of Pigeon Forge in Sevier County Chancery Court claims an “incurable uncertainty” surrounds the results of the Nov. 6 referendum that saw liquor-by-the-drink approved by a margin of 100 votes.
The election marked the issue’s third appearance on the ballot since 2009.
Proponents of liquor by the drink called the lawsuit a “frivolous” refusal to accept defeat at the polls.
“We kind of consider it sour grapes,” said Ken Maples, an owner of the Comfort Inn & Suites in Pigeon Forge and a member of Forging Ahead, which campaigned for the proposal. “Both times we were defeated, we licked our wounds and went home. Our opposition finds it necessary to file a lawsuit.”
…The lawsuit cites complaints of city residents not being allowed to vote on the referendum and of county residents getting a vote. Vote totals don’t match up, according to the lawsuit, and some voters’ addresses lead nowhere.
The final vote tally added up to 1,232 votes in favor of liquor by the drink and 1,132 votes against. That’s a total of 2,364 votes — 303 more than voter rolls list as taking part in the election, according to the lawsuit.
“Somehow 303 more votes ended up on the referendum than were registered,” said Lewis Howard Jr., the attorney who filed the lawsuit.
Residents already have filed complaints with the election commission. The lawsuit demands the results be thrown out and a new referendum ordered.
Local citizens across the Volunteer State overwhelmingly voted to flip their towns from dry to wet this past election, with more than two dozen communities saying ‘yes’ to liquor stores or the sale of liquor in restaurants, according to a TNReport count. Of 32 local referendums held last week to allow either package stores or liquor by the drink — or both — 25 passed.
In some counties, the ‘yes’ votes were overwhelming. In Robertson County, for example, four cities approved alcohol sales: Coopertown, Cross Plains, Greenbrier and Orlinda. And in Hawkins County, Church Hill, Mt. Carmel and Rogersville approved liquor by the drink.
From Pigeon Forge to McKenzie, liquor sales won over the voters…. The support sets the table for a push in the 2013 legislative session to allow grocery stores to sell wine, according to the former assistant director and general counsel of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission who now serves as a lobbyist for state grocery stores.
“We’re going to make a much stronger effort this year to pass it in the House and thehe House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.” Senate,” said Dan Haskell. “Both the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.”
— Note: A list of local votes on liquor issues is HERE.
Republican state legislators raised almost $400,000 just from those on a major donor list during a Nashville fundraiser for their fall campaigns.
The event, held at the War Memorial Auditorium adjoining the Legislative Plaza, had 10 organizations or individuals designated as “sponsors” for contributing $25,000 or more and 13 on a “host” list that required a contribution of $10,000. Assuming each listed donor gave the minimum amount, that would mean at least $380,000.
Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, declined to give a specific amount of money collected saying the money “is still coming in” from some who made pledges. He said the goal was $400,000 and he hopes that was exceeded.
Others have suggested the take approached $525,000.
Those listed as $25,000 “sponsors” included U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan, two liquor distilleries – Brown Foreman and Jack Daniels – and two legislative lobbyist firms, Bivens and Associates and McMahan Winstead. Others were American Esoteric Laboratories, FedEx Corp., Joyce and willis Johnson, Teresa and Garry McNabb and StudentsFirst, an education reform group founded by fomer Washington, D.C., school superintendent Michelle Rhee.
Three congressmen were among those listed as $10,000 “hosts” – Reps. Diane Black, Phil Roe and Stephen Fincher.
Others in the $10,000 category were Natalie and Jim Haslam, state Comptroller Justin Wilson, the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, Tennessee Bankers Association, Titlemax, Video Gaming Technology, Carl Hailey and three lobbyist firms.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Thursday that “it’s a whole lot easier” to raise money now that Republicans enjoy full control over the House and Senate. Asked why, he replied:
“I guess we’re just better looking, funnier and more attractive than we used to be,” he said.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues liquor licenses in Tennessee, now has direct access to the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s computer database for accidents related to drunken driving, reports the Chattanooga TFP. That means the commission will know sooner about any distributor who may be serving underage drinkers or visibly intoxicated ones, officials said Tuesday.
THP Director Col. Tracy Trott and ABC Executive Director Danielle Elks joined others at the Charleston Fire Department on Tuesday to announce the partnership put together by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland.
“You’ve heard the expression ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ Well, where there’s smoke, the ABC special agents can now look for the fire,” Watson said at the news conference.
“This partnership will allow ABC special agents to more quickly gather information regarding alcohol-related traffic accidents,” he said. “This information could lead to further investigations into possible violations of state liquor laws.”
Defense attorney Jim Logan, a Democrat, said he and Watson, a Republican and veteran law enforcement officer, agreed quickly about the need to spread the responsibility beyond the driver.
Attorney General Bob Cooper says a state law that requires liquor store owners to be Tennessee residents – enacted by state legislators who said they wanted to block “interstate whiskey” – violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who requested the Cooper opinion released Tuesday, says he will next year sponsor legislation to repeal the requirement and hopes it will be a first step toward a comprehensive rewrite of state liquor laws that currently “are not business-friendly and not citizen-friendly.”
The Cooper opinion (full text HERE) deals with statutes applying to both wholesale and retail liquor licenses.
To get a wholesaler license, a corporation’s officers and stockholders must be Tennessee residents for five years and “a majority of its assets” must be located in Tennessee. For a retail package store license, a company must have “all of its capitol stock” owned by persons who have resided in Tennessee for at least two years.
“These residency and corporate asset location requirements for applicants seeking a license as an alcoholic beverage wholesaler or package retailer violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” says the opinion.
The House has given final approval and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that makes nine counties part of a “pilot project” on enforcing laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages.
The bill has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate for three weeks as lawmakers debated what counties should be included in the pilot project.
The final version of HB3633 includes Knox, Hamilton, Cocke, Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union. With the House signing off on the latest Senate changes, the bill now goes to the governor.
The bill makes several changes in laws governing local beer boards, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with beer sales, and the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues licenses and enforces laws dealing with the sale of liquor and wine. The changes take effect on July 1 in the pilot project counties only and will continue for two years.
In general, the idea is to make the two agencies coordinate their efforts, said House sponsor Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. In the past, a local beer board has occasionally suspended the license of an establishment violations, but the business – typically a bar — remained open because the ABC license remained – or vice versa.
Examples of other changes include provisions intended to block the practice of a bar operator closing after being charged with law violations, then having the establishment reopen immediately in the same location under a new name or new ownership; and a ban on operators charged with breaking the law voluntarily surrendering their license – a move that allows them to later receive a new license with no violation on their record.