By Fred Woods
At its regular meeting this week the Lee County Commission agonized for what seemed like forever before taking the action Commissioner John Andrew Harris had urged them to take two weeks earlier; they rescinded their April 13 approval of the off-premise liquor license for Mike’s Grocery, 4435 LR 166, in Beauregard. Rev. Dewayne Drakeford, pastor of the 139 year-old Nazareth Baptist Church, which is directly across the highway from Mike’s, had voiced his disapproval of the commission’s original action at the previous commission meeting.
This week Drakeford was back, with enough of his congregation to virtually fill the commission chamber, having contacted the ABC Board who told him to go back and ask the commission to rescind its prior approval.
One issue here is the difference between how on-premise consumption license applications are handled as opposed to off-premise consumption. The on-premise applications contain a sheet listing proximity of the applicant to churches, schools and homes and a statement as to whether there is any opposition to the application.
The off-premise application has no such sheet, but the bottom of the cover sheet usually contains the statement: “No objections have been noted regarding this application proposing ISSUANCE of this license.” This notice appears in spite of the fact that no survey or even notification of persons in the vicinity of the applicant has been made; in other words, no one has been given an opportunity to voice an objection. This was the basis of Rev. Drakeford’s complaint.
Another major issue discussed dealt with proposed state legislation (SB-487 by Sen. Whatley) which would require Lee County to cover all costs of providing a legislative delegation office in the county. This bill passed the Senate earlier this week on a 14-1 vote.
The commission’s biggest problem with this bill appears to be the fact that, while all expenses would be covered by Lee County, the “staff” would be hired by and serve at the pleasure of “the senior Senate member of the Lee County Legislative Delegation.” The senior Senate member is, of course, Sen. Tom Whatley. The staff salary would also be set by Sen. Whatley “at a rate not more than that of the Chief Probate Clerk of Lee County.” That rate is currently around $63,000.
Actually such an office is not unprecedented for either the state or Lee County. Reportedly more than 20 Alabama counties maintain offices for their state legislative delegations, although hiring and funding practices are not known. Prior to Preston Long’s retirement 9 -10 years ago, Lee County had such an office. Since then, Long’s replacement, Wendy Swann, has had her duties shifted away from strictly legislative ones.
The commission adopted a resolution in opposition to SB-487 by a 4-0 vote with Commissioner Robert Ham abstaining. The resolution listed reasons for opposition as being it was an unfunded mandate that would place undue pressure on an already tight county budget; it would require the county to fund a position (and office) over which it has no control; and it would place an unnecessary burden on Lee County taxpayers. Ham abstained because he said he didn’t see that the resolution would accomplish anything beyond angering the county’s legislative delegation.
The commission also heard from County Engineer Justin Hardee that the new bridge over Chewacla Creek on LR 10 has been finished and reopened as of last Friday afternoon, slightly less than 4 months after it was closed and several weeks ahead of schedule.
In other action the commission
-approved the annual final report of litigations and solvencies as required for Revenue Commissioner Oline Price to submit the report to the state,
-approved a sharing agreement for the proceeds of a Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) among Opelika, Auburn and Lee County (each jurisdiction will receive $8,205 from the annual grant) and
-approved retail beer and table wine licenses (off-premise) for the Cusseta Truck Plaza at I-85 Exit 70.