Easley council passes alcohol sales ordinance

EASLEY — An overflow crowd showed up for Monday night’s meeting of Easley city council, with many people openly speaking against the new ordinance that will allow sale of beer and wine at selected events in Old Market Square.
Despite the opinions expressed by many speakers, council voted 5-2 to pass the ordinance, with council members Thomas Wright and Libby Dalton opposing the measure.
Richard Lee showed up with a group from Home With A Heart, hoping that the men’s testimony of the problems alcohol had caused in their lives would touch the hearts of council members, showing the negative affects of alcohol on a person’s life.
Lee said most of the men in his program started drinking socially and eventually it grew into a major problem.
Lee asked council what would happen if someone left Old Marker Square driving drunk.
“Who are you going to hold responsible?” he asked
Lee predicted that if the ordinance passed, the next move would be to allow the sale and consumption of hard liquor at city events.
Former city clerk Margaret Gibson spoke, reminding council that she had spent 25 years sitting where they are. Gibson gave several examples of the poor effects of alcohol, and the dangers alcohol consumption caused.
Mike Jones said that he was rather embarrassed that it took this kind of situation to inspire him to address council.
“But for the grace of God, I would be in jail today,” Jones said.
Jones said that for many years he had a drinking problem, and he described the ill effects it had on his family.
Jones said many of the nation’s problems start on the local level.
“You talk about Washington, most of that started with a local council meeting,” he said.
Jones told of the problems created by his reliance on alcohol.
“I worked hard to raise two boys,” Jones said. “They’re doing good today, but their father was a drunk.”
Ernest Hall warned council to be careful about the possible repercussions of their action.
“If you vote this in, you’re voting for trouble,” Hall said.
Tim Thompson said he grew up in Easley, but moved away 22 years ago because he had “lost everything I had due to alcohol.”
Thompson said he no longer drinks, but he cannot ignore the negative effects of alcohol.
Thompson told council that 70 percent of all auto accidents involve alcohol, 80 percent of all murders involve alcohol and 60 percent of divorces involve alcohol. Thompson said that when the Bible refers to wine, it is referring to something similar to grape juice, not a fermented brew. Thompson noted that Noah indulged in strong drink in a passage from Genesis, and it brought shame to his family and caused a separation from his son.
Thompson listed lung cancer, breast cancer and kidney cancer as three diseases that have affected his family, but he noted that alcohol has been responsible for more deaths than the three diseases combined.
“Everybody will stand before God,” Thompson warned.
Brian Hale, who spoke out against the ordinance at last month’s council meeting, said he appreciated council’s efforts to bring income into the city.
“I appreciate that, but I don’t agree with the way you’re doing this,” Hale said.
Hale made a reference to last month’s council meeting, when a representative from the S.C Barbecue Association spoke to council about problems that occurred when alcohol was banned at Bamberg’s barbecue festival.
Hale said he spoke with the Bamberg Chief of Police and with Bamberg City Administrator Bruce Watson.
Watson said that the festival was never a barbecue event, but barbecue was a part of a larger festival, according to Hale. The festival was discontinued not because of the lack of alcohol sales, but because city improvements to widen the street eliminated the site of the festival.
Hale said the Bamberg city administrator reported that the festival had been attended by “drunks looking for a place to party.”
Hale said the Bamburg police chief said the festival brought problems with underage drinking.
Hale also contacted officials connected with a festival in Tryon, N.C., home of another alleged barbecue festival, but said he was told that event is actually a music festival, with barbecue sales only accounting for a small portion of the proceeds.
Hale said that Tryon officials reported problems that were caused by the cooks drinking overnight, but he noted that by the language of Easley’s proposed ordinance, the cookers will not be allowed to drink.
Hale said he realized that the ordinance was probably going to pass that night, but it would give him a new goal, as members who vote for the ordinance face re-election bids in the coming years.
“As soon as we can get four votes to turn this thing over, we’re going to do it,” Hale said.
Mayor Larry Bagwell spoke to express displeasure at the way the issue has been handled by many.
“We’re all citizens of the community,” Bagwell said. “We don’t all go to the same church, but we’re supposed to worship the same God.”
Bagwell said he did not want Easley to become a place where people would not speak to each other as they walk down its streets.
“We’ve got a lot invested in this community,” Bagwell said “We will not do anything under cover.”
Councilman Brian Garrison said that since last month’s meeting, he had made a point of asking people their opinion on the issue, and overwhelmingly the people he has spoken to are in favor of the ordinance.
Councilman Dave Watson noted that some people had thought this ordinance would allow alcohol sales at events staged in Easley’s J.B. Owens Recreation Complex, but there would not be any alcohol sales allowed there or at any city-sponsored event.
After the vote, Dr. David Gallamore, pastor of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley, was recognized by Bagwell and asked if he wished to share some thoughts on the night’s happenings. Gallamore said he and members of his church were “saddened” by the vote.
“I don’t have any desire to leave here,” Gallamore said. “And I certainly don’t want to be in Greenville.”