DeKalb County has a rule forbidding the storage and sale of beer within 2,000 feet of schools, churches and other places of public gathering.
Opponents of that regulation believe it is too restrictive and some have asked members of the county commission to consider changing it.
The commissioners discussed the issue during an all-committees meeting of the commission Thursday night at the courthouse. Some commissioners said they would be willing to support a measure to change the 2,000 foot rule, possibly reducing it down to as low as 400 feet, the same as the City of Smithville's distance requirement. Others said such a measure should be placed on the ballot next August for the public to decide.
According to the Smithville Beer Ordinance the minimum distance requirement in the city is 400 feet and "shall be measured in a straight line from the primary entrance of the establishment seeking a permit to sell beer to the primary entrance of a school, church, or other place of public gathering."
While the county could change the distance requirement to mirror the city's, it apparently cannot change the manner in which the distance is to be measured. In the city, the measurement must be taken from "primary entrance" to "primary entrance". But in the county, it must be measured from "nearest point" to nearest point".
County Attorney Hilton Conger addressed that issue during a recent county beer board meeting. "Under regulations established by the county commission in October 1939, no business can be licensed to sell beer if it is within 2,000 feet of a school, church, or other place of public gathering. That's been the rule here in the county ever since (1939). The county can change that and make it less than 2,000 feet but DeKalb County has never chosen to do that," said Conger.
As for how the distance is to be measured, Conger said the state supreme court ruled more than fifty years ago in a Sullivan County case that the distance is to be measured in a direct line from building to building or "as the crow flies" "That was settled by the supreme court in the case of Jones versus the Sullivan County Beer Board. That was decided in 1956. The court said that the measurement is to be made in a direct line, the nearest point to the nearest point. From the building to the building," said Conger.
During Thursday night's all-committees meeting, County Mayor Mike Foster asked each commissioner and eight of them said they could support changing the minimum distance down to either 600 or 400 feet. Four of them said no. Two commissioners were not present. The vote was not binding.
Foster said he would consult with County Attorney Conger soon and include the issue on the agenda for the December county commission meeting. If the vote to change the minimum distance requirement should fail on a straight up or down vote by the county commission during a regular meeting, the commissioners could choose to have the issue placed on the ballot for the public to decide next August. Eight votes are required for passage.