Breaking News: Alcohol election results upheld

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Wording on petition, some absentee ballots was not insufficient, judge says.

By James Roberts

A judge has upheld the results of May's local option election, which allowed some Campbellsville restaurants to serve alcohol.

Last 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 made 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.

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 were named as defendants. 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.

The lawsuit sought to void 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. Eighty-five residents voted on the incomplete question by absentee machine before it was corrected.

In his ruling, filed Tuesday, Judge Doughlas M. George stated that "the petition which authorized the question to be placed on the ballot substantially complied with the statute and was sufficient enough for the contestors to know exactly what section of the local option law they wanted placed on the ballot."

Furthermore, George stated, the 85 ballots featuring the incomplete question should have been counted because voters understood the issue before them. In addition, even if those votes were thrown out, the election results would still be the same, George stated.

"There has not been sufficient evidence presented to the court which would show the results of this election would be different," George stated.

State law does not require the exact language of a statute to be printed on a petition, George stated. Because only one statute pertains to the sale of alcohol in restaurants seating 50 people and deriving 70 percent of their revenue from food sale, George stated, it is clear which provision is being sought. That fact also gave Carney "every reason to conclude that KRS 242.1244 is the statute that was intended.

The improperly worded question on the 85 absentee ballots does not invalidate the election results, George stated.

Of those 85 voters who cast absentee ballots with the incomplete question, 59 voted "No" and 26 voted "Yes." If all of those votes were thrown out, the margin of the measure's victory would actually increase.

George also stated that even if all 85 absentee voters voted no, the measure would still pass.

"There is nothing in this case that has been presented to overcome the presumption of validity," George stated. "The majority of voters cast a vote in favor of the local option law. Those 85 absentee voters had sufficient information in which to cast their votes."

On Tuesday, June Bishop declined to comment, saying that she had not seen the order. Burris and Finn were unavailable for comment.

Spragens had not seen the order and declined to comment until he had.

In an e-mailed statement, Carney said he is happy with George's ruling.

"I am pleased that the court ruled to uphold the election.  As the chief election official of the county, it is my job along with the County Board of Elections to provide the fairest elections possible to the citizens of Campbellsville and Taylor County. I will always try to have the most accurate and fairest election possible, regardless of my personal opinion as to whether I am in favor of an issue or against it. If a mistake is made on my behalf such as was the case here, and it can be corrected without affecting the final results, we will do everything in our power to correct it so the election can be valid. Such was the case here and the numbers show that the majority of citizens in Campbellsville voted in favor of the question and I'm thankful that we live in a country that gives us the opportunity to participate in the voting process."

Carney commended Taylor County Attorney Craig Cox, who represented the Board of Election and Rogers, for noticing the absentee ballot error and for his work in compiling the facts concerning the case.

"His noticing the question on the ballot, gave us the opportunity to immediately act and add the language to the ballots the voters would be voting on when casting votes on Election Day and print new absentee ballots to be used during the remaining time absentee voting took place. Once we corrected the question, we still knew that someone could challenge the election and we were very careful to try and keep a complete record of everything we did pertaining to the local option question, including the way we certified the election."

Carney stressed that he harbored no ill will toward those who filed the suit and he encouraged "anyone who believes we have handled an election in an improper manner to take whatever means necessary to see that things were done and will be done in a fair and just manner."

While pending for several months, the lawsuit didn't stop the issuance of alcohol licenses in Campbellsville.

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.

Two Campbellsville restaurants now serve alcohol - Café Bonin and Fiesta Mexico. Pancho's Mexican Restaurant has applied and is awaiting state approval, according to local Alcoholic Beverage Control officer Ed Miladin.

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