PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — Voters in Pigeon Forge have again approved liquor by the drink. This time, the margin was 154 votes.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/ZtC0Uc ) reported Ken Maples, who led the pro-liquor initiative, said the election Thursday validated the choice voters initially made on Nov. 6.
Results of that referendum were thrown out by a court over confusion about who was allowed to vote. The question was on a crowded general election ballot, headed by the presidential race.
Jess Davis, who is co-chairman of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, said his group was disappointed in the outcome and might contest the results.
The Sevier County Election Commission meets March 21 to certify the vote.
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — Proponents of liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge are vastly outspending a group trying to defeat the issue as it comes back for another vote.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/13Vud7j ) reported proponent group Forging Ahead filed documents showing it had received nearly $27,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26.
Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge reported it had about $3,400 in donations.
Voters narrowly approved a liquor referendum in November, but it was overturned after complaints that people who live outside the city were allowed to vote.
On Thursday, Pigeon Forge voters will again choose whether to allow restaurant liquor sales.
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — The Sevier County Election Commission has voted to ask the district attorney’s office to investigate people who improperly cast ballots in a problematic liquor-by-the-drink referendum.
Commissioners made the decision Thursday after earlier attributing voting mistakes to poll worker confusion. The referendum came on the same day as the general election, which produced the largest turnout ever in the county. Nearly 300 people who did not live in Pigeon Forge were allowed to vote on the liquor issue.
A judge tossed the election results, and the commission has scheduled a revote for March 14.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/WmQMKN ) reported Election Commission member Darrell Whitchurch made the motion to send the names to prosecutor Jimmy Dunn. He said if anyone is attempting fraud from either side, they should be prosecuted.
When Pigeon Forge votes yet again on liquor by the drink, the News Sentinel reports that opponents plan a very different campaign, while supporters plan to concentrate on getting the vote out. And the anti-liquor group Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge says it wants to find an independent agency to monitor the election.
The Sevier County Election Commission voted on Thursday to set March 14 for the new referendum.
Liquor by the drink was approved on Nov. 6, but that referendum was voided by Chancellor Telford Forgety after a lawsuit brought by CCCPF. Liquor was defeated in referendums in 2009 and 2011. On Nov. 6, it passed by 100 votes, but nearly 300 votes were cast by people who were ineligible to vote in the referendum because they were not residents of or owners of property in Pigeon Forge. The election commission ultimately admitted that the results vote were “incurably uncertain.”
“We are going to rephrase our message,” said CCCPF Chairman Jess Davis. Besides campaigning against liquor by the drink, he said, “we are going point out that it was our city officials that got us into this mess.”
Davis was referring to a request in March by the Pigeon Forge City Commission to the state Legislature to override the normal two-year vote between referendums on the same issue, and add the liquor question to the Nov. 6 election. The bill was handled by lawmakers from outside Sevier County and approved.
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.
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.
State Sen. Doug Overbey is fighting back against the suggestion he was involved in some secret deal to sneak liquor into Pigeon Forge, reports The Mountain Press. He says the accusations made by some in that city are “pure fiction.” Though he was not named specifically, businessman Jess Davis leveled allegations during a recent City Commission meeting that a “Tennessee senator” was in on closed-door meetings Davis claims were held on an end-around for spirits. Overbey is the only person who represents Sevier County in the state’s Senate and, like everyone else Davis claims or suggests was part of the gathering, vehemently denies there was such a meeting.
“I have hatched no plan and I have not been part of hatching some plan,” Overbey told The Mountain Press. “My consistent position has been that the citizens’ vote in May needs to be respected. I could not support or go along with anything other than that and, if it’s desire, a new referendum on this issue.”
By Megan Boehnke of the News Sentinel:
Along the banks of the Pigeon River in Newport, Mike McWherter on Saturday presented the final charitable payment from his late father’s campaign fund — a $2,500 check to help in the effort to clean up the waterway.
Former Gov. Ned McWherter, who died of cancer in April at age 80, took an interest in the Pigeon in the late 1980s after learning of high pollution levels caused by industrial waste coming from a paper mill upstream in North Carolina.
After floating the river himself in a canoe and nearly getting arrested by a local sheriff for trespassing on the property of the paper mill, McWherter denied the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operating on Christmas Eve 1988.
While the river is cleaner than it was in the 1980s, North Carolina and Tennessee have been wrangling over the plant’s pollution for decades and the two sides came to an agreement in 1998 that required the plant to clean up its wastewater. Still, despite involvement from both states and the Environmental Protection Agency, local officials and activists insist the water still isn’t as clean as it should be, affecting the quality of life of residents and the viability of tourism and rafting in the area.
When the former governor, in office from 1987-1995, returned to the river in one of his final public appearances, the younger McWherter said his father was appalled at the river’s condition.
“He specifically told me he wanted to make sure a nice donation went to the efforts to clean up the river,” the younger McWherter said.
The contribution from McWherter’s estate will go to a legal fund for a potential lawsuit against the mill, said local businessman and longtime activist Gay Webb, who is involved with the Cocke County Waterways Advisory Council.
“We’re going to hire one of the biggest, best law firms we can find because financial support seems to be here now,” Webb said Saturday.
Gordon Ball, a Knoxville lawyer who represented Pigeon River area residents in a lawsuit, said Ned McWherter was actually a “late convert” to supporting cleanup. Ball said that McWherter in 1988 as governor took steps that he saw as undermining efforts to eliminate pollution from the Champion paper mill.
The younger McWherter acknowledged that Ball was an early supporter of the cleanup efforts and that he was not always on the best terms with his father, but said the former governor was a strong supporter of cleaning up the river after witnessing the damage himself.
The contribution came from the former governor’s old campaign account, which he kept open after leaving office to create a scholarship fund and to donate to other campaigns. At the time of his death, about $43,000 remained.