Voters in Brooklet will decide Nov. 7 whether to allow liquor stores within their city limits. The referendum will appear on Brooklet's municipal election ballot along with a multi-candidate race for one seat on Brooklet City Council.
During its Aug. 17 meeting, the council by a 3-2 roll call vote approved a resolution to put the liquor store question on the ballot. Council members Bradley Anderson of Seat 2, Rebecca Kelly of Seat 3 and Johnathan Graham of Seat 5 voted "yes" to the resolution. Council members Nicky Gwinnett of Seat 1 and James Harrison of Seat 4 voted "no."
The question, to which voters will check "yes" or "no," is simply: "Shall the issuance of licenses for the package sale of distilled spirits be approved?"
"My belief is this. Whenever the citizens get to make that decision, ultimately they get the say in what they want, whereas when we as council make that decision we vote for them, and in this particular case, this is one of those things where you have citizens who are deeply divided on both sides of that argument," said Anderson, who is unopposed for re-election in November to his council seat.
Major changes on alcohol sales policy are one of the things that Georgia law requires must go before the people for approval, he noted in an interview Monday. However, elected city councils and county commissions decide whether to put the questions on the ballot in the first place, except in cases where voters successfully petition for a referendum.
"And so the question really became, do you let the people decide, or do you decide for the people that that's not what they want," Anderson said. "And once again we had two very passionate (groups), we had people that came out on both sides, and so my belief is that's what true democracy is, and you let it run its course."
Brooklet officials have not written an ordinance in advance to regulate liquor stores, preferring to wait to see whether voters approve. That was also the approach that Statesboro City Council and the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners took with referendums in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Licensing of liquor stores began in Statesboro in April 2022, and six are now in business. The county commissioners earlier this month enacted an ordinance to license package shops in the unincorporated areas, restricted by county zoning to highway commercial zones.
At least some Brooklet officials thought they had included the possibility of package shops within their city limits in a referendum in 2019. Howwever, the wording of that referendum, approved by voters, authorized mixed drink sales in restaurants and allowed Sunday beer and wine sales, but not liquor stores.
Gwinnett, who after last week's candidate qualifying is unopposed to become Brooklet's next mayor, cast one of the two council votes against putting this new referendum on the ballot.
"I honestly don't think that Brooklet's quite ready for all that just yet," he said Monday. "I think we've got too many other things that we need to tend to, such as the sewer project and all that comes with that, before we are able to move in that direction. Last time we passed liquor by the drink for restaurants, and that's worked out really good, and I think that's a good stopping point for right now. But that's just my opinion."
Brooklet voters will also have a decision to make about who fills Council Seat 1, which Gwinnett is leaving to become mayor. Three residents qualified as candidates for the council seat Monday, and the specially extended qualifying period for the seat continues until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29.