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Dallas Local Option Election Meeting Informational by design

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By Shawn Williams - Editor

Tennell Atkins, John Rogers, Deborah Watkins

(l-r) Councilman Tennell Atkins, Asst. City Attorney John Rogers, City Secretary Deborah Watkins

On Monday evening at Friendship-West, Councilman Tennell Atkins convened a meeting to discuss two petitions being circulated throughout the city regarding the sale of beer and wine in Dallas.  Atkins did not want the meeting to become a pro/con affair, but more of an explanation of the petition process and what would happened if enough signatures were gathered to force a local option election.

DSC05036City Secretary Deborah Watkins lead off the meeting with a historical look at local option elections.  In her presentation it was stated that 55 local option elections held in Dallas County between 1877-1985, most involving the sale of alcohol.  But this would be the first local option election ever for the City of Dallas.

There are two petitions being circulated by Texas Petition Strategies with the following language:

For/Against: The legal Sale of Beer and Wine for off-premesis consumption only

For/Against: The legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage holders only.

Dallas Wet Dry Map Alcohol Sales

John Rogers, Asst. City Attorney was next to explain where Dallas currently is and what could be next.  Besides county elections, “wet” or “dry” status have also been established by justice of the peace jurisdictions.  According to Rogers the current boundaries for alcohol sales were established by a local option election in 1935.  The JP district boundaries at the time of the vote is not exactly clear, and the city is still researching just what areas are included.

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The petitions being circulated must receive 68,462 signatures in order to force an election which would be held on November2nd 2010.  Those names must be gathered within 60 days of March 23, the date in which TPS received the petitions. The city will have 30 days to verify the signatures once they are submitted.

According to Rogers, it is now easier to hold elections because in 2003 the number of required signatures dropped from 35% or registered voters down to 35% of voters in the last gubernatorial election.

According to Councilman Atkins, this was the first in depth presentation that council members had seen regarding the petition.  They will not be briefed until the meeting on April 7th.  Other council members in attendance included Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill, and Councilwoman Carolyn Davis.

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Caraway, while not stating his position on the subject of beer and wine sales, said he is concerned about the “proliferation” or alcohol retailers if the election were to make the entire city “wet.”  Caraway likened the potential problems to the 24 hour tobacco shops popping up throughout Southern Dallas.

He’s also wary of the TABC.  “I fought TABC and they took me to court,” said Caraway.  “If they took me to court, what do you think they will do to you,” he said.

Councilwoman Davis said that she wants to start a petition of her own to remove beer and wine sales from South Dallas.  “We want South Dallas to be dry,” she said, stating that South Dallas at one time had roughly 460 alcohol related businesses.   Councilwoman Hill said she will hold a meeting of her own, but could not say whether it would be within the 60 day period of the signature collection process.

Councilman Atkins should be commended (along with Dr. Frederick Haynes and Friendship-West) for calling this meeting.  As a resident of Dallas it was good to know that I was getting the information fresh off the press so to speak.  It was hard to tell, but it seemed that the sentiment in the room was 50/50 for and against (perhaps leaning towards against).  But Atkins did not intend for this to be a campaign meeting.  “This meeting is for information purposes,” he kept saying, and that his hope was that Southern Dallas residents could get the information they needed before deciding whether or not they signed the petition.

On final piece of unexpected information was learned by many at the meeting.  Most knew that alcohol sales are prohibited withing 300 feet of a church, public school, private school, public hospital, day-care center or child-care facility.  But many learned for the first time that alcohol sales are prohibited withing 1,000 feet of alcohol-free schools.  Alcohol free schools are determined by DISD, who must then ask the city council for the designation.

Photos by Byron Watters

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