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Alcohol hearing expected soon

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By James Roberts

Campbellsville voters' approval of limited alcohol sales should be allowed to stand, according to two documents filed in response to a suit challenging May's local option election.

In May, Campbellsville voters approved a measure allowing restaurants in Campbellsville seating at least 50 people and deriving at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales to serve alcohol by the drink. However, alcohol can only be served in conjunction with a meal.

The measure passed by 74 votes and effectively makes Campbellsville a moist city. A dry county that contains a city that allows some form of alcohol sales is considered moist.

In June, Lebanon attorney Rob Spragens filed a petition contesting the local option election on behalf of Don and June Bishop, Russell Burris and Murey G. Finn. Named as defendants were Taylor County Sheriff John Shipp, Taylor County Clerk Mark Carney, Allen Dudgeon and Phil Allan Bertram, all members of the Taylor County Board of Elections, and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers.

The lawsuit seeks to nullify the results of the moist vote based on the wording of the question.

The petition and initial ballots did not include a phrase mandating that alcohol be served only in conjunction with a meal. Some residents voted on the incomplete question by absentee machine before it was corrected.

Taylor County Attorney Craig Cox filed a response to the suit on July 3 in which he states that the Board of Elections and Rogers "deny that the language of the petition was legally insufficient to permit a local option election."

In July, Mike Kehoe, who helped organize the petition drive, Mike Phillips and Barry Cox petitioned the court to be made party to the lawsuit as defendants. Their request was granted.

On Sept. 16, Spragens filed a memorandum on behalf of the Bishops, Burris and Finn.

In that document, Spragens states that because the petition was "irregular and ambiguous," all actions that followed "served to [ensure] the further irregularity of that process, thereby requiring this court to invalidate any purported outcome of that referendum."

The contestors also state that Carney did not pass the petition along to Cox "for review and approval as to form and content."

In a memorandum filed by Cox on Oct. 3, he states that Kentucky election laws "do not require the Board of Elections to take official action as to the candidates to be placed upon the election ballot nor to vote upon the form of the question to be shown on the ballot to the voters. This duty and this role is prescribed by the statute and are delegated to the clerk of the county where the election is being held."

In addition, Cox's memorandum states, unless required by state law, the clerk must accept a petition as valid on its face if it contains the required amount of valid signatures.

In their filing, the contestors cited KRS 118.165, which states the county clerk must notify candidates of irregular nomination papers within 24 hours of filing. The contestors said that provision should have been followed here.

Because the petition contained no direct citation of KRS, the contestors say, Carney used his own judgment to determine that petitioners were petitioning in favor of the 50-seat rule offered in KRS 242.1244.

In a brief filed on their behalf by their attorney, Paul C. Harnice, the petitioners state that the petition language made it clear that the 50-seat rule was being sought.

"The absence of the 'in conjunction with a meal' language could not have, and did not, substantially mislead the voters," the brief states. "To argue otherwise is to underestimate the intelligence of the electorate."

On Tuesday morning, Cox said that the contestors now have 10 days to file a reply. After that window has closed, a hearing will be scheduled.

"I would anticipate this to be toward the latter part of the month," Cox said. "After that the case stands submitted to the judge for his ruling."

In the meantime, two restaurants have applied for an alcohol license - Caf Bonin and Fiesta Mexico. No licenses have been granted as of yet.

At a special meeting in July, the City Council approved an ordinance regulating alcohol sales.

The ordinance permits restaurants to serve alcohol from 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday. Businesses will pay a $1,000 annual license fee and an 8 percent annual regulatory fee based on alcohol receipts. Once the business pays the license fee, it will receive a $1,000 credit on the regulatory fee. A 10 percent penalty will be applied to regulatory fees that are not paid in a timely fashion.

On Monday, City Attorney John Bertram said a license could be granted, despite the lawsuit, because "there has not been any action taken to prohibit the City" from proceeding with its ordinance.

Bertram said the state issues the license, while the City enforces the provisions in its ordinance.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.