Proposed beer, wine ordinance stirs debate in Marble Hill

Thursday, August 28, 2008

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- An ordinance allowing Marble Hill to sell beer and wine at the Harvest Festival became a hot-button issue with city officials and the public last week during two special hearings.

According to Donnia Mayfield, the Bollinger County Chamber of Commerce president, the proposed ordinance would allow the festival beer and wine tasting provided by Thousand Oaks Winery in Patton, Mo., and at future special city events. The provision also included several safety measures, including a roped-off section for drinking separated from the festival. Police were to be monitoring the area, as well.

But because a majority of the city council was not present to vote during Aug. 18's special meeting, the issue did not come to a head until a special session called by Mayor Russell Masterson for Friday. During what has been described as a heated debate, the ordinance failed to pass with only Ward 1 Alderman Clint Lacy voting yes.

"I think most of the city council members were having trouble with the word alcohol in the ordinance," Masterson said. "At first we looked strictly at revenue and tax base, but we hadn't looked at the people who wouldn't have anything to do with it."

However, community members had no trouble making their opinions about alcohol known to the council Friday evening.

"I know you need revenue. I know you need money coming in," said Fred Ritter, pastor of Marble Hill First Baptist Church. "But if you have to do it this way, with a beer cart and a wine setup at the festival with families, then this town is in trouble. We have places for people to drink already. Let anyone who wants to drink go to those places."

Lacy said he believed something "funny" had taken place because, as far as he understood, every one of the city council members supported the measure until Friday's vote.

"Alderman [Jim] Sear, who originally made the motion to take a vote on it, withdrew his support stating he now had constituents that did not want this to pass," Lacy said. "I partake of alcohol here and there, and I know others on the council do as well. I know I would be a hypocrite for voting no, and it would've helped the revenue of our town especially during the festival."

Masterson disagreed and said the ordinance needed to be researched more and brought to the council earlier.

"The ordinance should have come to us two or three months ago so we could have researched it and see what we wanted to do," Masterson said. "With more time we could've educated the public and look at what public opinion would be, which turned out to be pretty strongly against it. All I heard was 'Don't do this because of our children.'"

Mayfield, who has been planning the festival, insists she was informed four or five weeks ago by city administrative assistant Gary Shrum that a temporary license for beer and wine tasting had been approved.

"After Gary told us that it was simply a matter of getting the proper permits, and we went ahead and did all of that -- went through all the paperwork, spent all the time and made all the plans," Mayfield said. "Now I find out all along nothing was settled. All of that work we did and now the chamber has been made out to look like a laughing stock. To be honest, right now I am not proud to be the chamber president."

Although Sears stated the ordinance should be revisited at a later date and that he would support trying "one wine tasting," Masterson has said it is unlikely the issue will be reconsidered even if beer was excluded.

"We weren't trying to disrespect the community at all," Mayfield said. "We respect everyone in our community, and we just wanted to give them a great festival."

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