Pete Frames, a former Cleburne County Commissioner and member of the Abel Baptist Church, brought to the commission meeting a petition with 90 signatures asking the commissioners not to grant the license.
“From what I understand — correct me if I’m wrong — legally we don’t have a leg to stand on,” Frames said. “It’s not a legal issue, it’s a moral issue.”
Donald Morrison of Prosper, US, Inc., requested the license for his store at 4304 Cleburne County Road 24. The license was approved by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
T. J. Maloney, Morrison’s son-in-law, attended the meeting on his behalf and argued for the license.
Morrison took over the store about three years ago and has four employees, Maloney said. The business serves a lot of people in the area, and its location near Cheaha State Park also gives it potential to serve visitors to the area, he said. But Morrison is at a crossroads; he has tried to streamline the business to generate revenue, but every month he dips into his own pocket to pay his employees, Maloney said.
“He needs to figure out is the store going to be profitable or is he going to have to shut it down,” Maloney said.
The commission has previously passed two licenses — one for the Trickum Trading Post and one for Weigel’s in Hollis Crossroads — Maloney said. Both have churches nearby, he said. The commission should take that precedent into account when considering the license application, Maloney said.
The congregation, though, is worried about the store’s proximity to their church. The business is just 164 feet from Abel Baptist, said Willie Freeman, a resident of Abel and a member of the church. The church cemetery is about 60 feet from the store. The county currently doesn’t have any laws banning alcohol licenses near churches, Commissioner Emmett Owen said.
Another resident talked about investigating vehicle accidents while in the military, many of which were the result of drunk driving. Another resident, Eugene Robinson, told the commissioners that the issue is a matter of respect for the church.
“If you don’t respect God’s house, what do you respect?” Robinson asked.
Owen told the residents that the commission’s hands were tied, however. Six or seven years ago, before Owen was on the board, the commission denied a license to an applicant that had already been approved by the ABC Board. The county was sued and lost the fight.
“I can’t see wasting the people’s money on something that was already lost,” Owen said.
County attorney Doug Ghee confirmed Owen’s comments. State law does trump county law when it comes to alcohol, Ghee said. But Commissioner Bobby Brooks said he would still vote against issuing the license. When the county went wet, it was supposed to solve all the county’s problems, and provide money for the schools and county government, Brooks said. But instead he has a family in his church that lost a husband and a father in an accident with a drunk driver.
“You can ask them, would they want me to vote for this?” Brooks said.
He said he voted for the other two alcohol licenses, but no community members came forward to protest the licenses.
The commissioners approved the license 3-1, with Brooks voting no.
In other business the commissioners:
• Reaffirmed the Cleburne County property tax millage rate of 30.5 mills.
• Approved partnering with Ranburne and the Alabama Department of Transportation on a road project for Georgia Avenue/Cleburne County Road 68. The county will provide $50,000 toward the project.
• Approved giving scrape blades to the city of Heflin and volunteer fire departments in Ranburne and Borden Springs for them to clear snow off streets in their areas in weather emergencies.
• Approved refinancing $1.9 million in debt incurred from building the county jail. The move will save the county between $150,000 and $160,000, County Administrator Steve Swafford said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.