Trenton Soon To Have a Liquor Store? Process Started, Anyway

At the April 9 Trenton City Commission meeting, Mayor Alex Case (right) beams as Commissioner Jerry Henegar presents youthful hero Noah Hodges an award for saving his father, Tommy Hodges (far left), as he choked on steak. Also honored was Dennis Kelly (center), the paramedic who taught young Hodges the Heimlich maneuver.

The big news coming out of Monday night’s meeting of the Trenton City Commission is that the city may be on its next step away from the blue laws that have limited alcohol sales here since Prohibition: A local merchant has started the process for opening a liquor store in town.

Trenton Mayor Alex Case told the commission that Jay Patel, who owns a convenience store that sells beer and wine, had approached the city about expanding his license to sell distilled spirits as well. That would mean changing the city’s ordinance, which currently allows package sales of beer and wine but not “hard” liquor.

To make that change, said the mayor, the merchant must induce 35 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign a petition in favor of the measure. Then the matter would go before all the voters in a referendum, either in the next regular city election in 2019 or in a special election called for that purpose.

How many voters does 35 percent translate to? Lowanna Vaughn at the Dade Board of Elections said there are currently 1710 active and 986 inactive registered voters in the small city. Ms. Vaughn says, according to state guidelines, she uses the active number to calculate percentages on election night. But whether Mr. Patel must get 35 percent of the 1710—599—or of the total 2696—944—is one for the lawyers.

Mayor Case said he’d forwarded the matter to Trenton’s out-of-town city attorney.

Will it happen? Dade and Trenton residents do seem more disposed to vote in favor of alcohol sales these days. In 2016 and ’17, respectively, the county and city approved liquor by the drink in restaurants by comfortable margins in separate referendums. So far, though, no establishments in the city serve anything stronger than wine, and no restaurant in the unincorporated county sells anything alcoholic at all.

A tangent of the liquor discussion that may interest those interested in eating and drinking out arose when Mayor Case was asked whether the old Thatcher Barbecue location across from Jenkins Park would be a suitable place for a restaurant that served alcohol. Actually, said Case, the place was not suitable for any restaurant at all. As Thatcher’s grew and expanded its space, the city had let regulations slide to oblige a valued and established business, but there were “major violations” with the building, said the mayor—problems with ADA (Americans with Disability Act) compliance, he indicated. “I don’t think we can let a food establishment go back in there,” he said.

Thatcher’s has moved into the space on the Trenton town square formerly occupied by Jo Mama’s Wraps. (Jo Mama’s went out of business entirely but its former owner, Lynda Ditmar, now serves lunch from the Li’l Chicken Coop next to Citizens Bank.)

Another loosening of tradition came with a decision to allow citizens to speak during the earlier, or work session, segment of the monthly city commission meeting. This measure was brought up by Fire/Utility Commissioner Jerry Henegar, who pointed out that currently citizen participation in the meeting was limited to the very last slot, so that citizens wishing to be heard had to endure a couple of hours of listening first.

Commmissioners Jerry Henegar and Monda Wooten.

He got no argument. “I feel like the citizens are our boss,” said Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten. Mayor Case agreed: “A lot of time we make decisions we might feel a little different about if we had heard from them ahead of time.” Citizens’ participation was duly moved to the end of the work session.

In other business, the commission approved the zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy it had been working on for city employees and discussed dates to go over it with them in person. It approved Henegar’s request to move $1200 between departments to pay for a gas monitor the sewer department had purchased and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell’s request for $4900 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) to resurface the basketball court at the city park.

Police Commissioner Sandra Gray reported the department had collected $15,704.50 in fines during March for a year-to-date total of $58,093.22. Police Chief Christy Smith reminded all that the annual Optimist Club-sponsored Law Enforcement Day is coming up May 1, when an officer from the Trenton PD as well as one from the Dade Sheriff’s Office and a trooper from the Georgia State Patrol will be honored. “If I could nominate our whole entire crew I would,” she said, reeling off a list of the officers’ recent accomplishments. “Let them know how much you appreciate them,” urged the chief.

The May 1 ceremony is at noon in the large courtroom of the new Dade courts facility, and the public is welcome.

(Photo: A bagpiper from a past year's Law Enforcement Day ceremony)

Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten said her department had patched a lot of potholes and finished clearing up the new city parking lot behind Lalito’s Restaurant. She also had a bigger announcement to make: The next citywide cleanup day will take place Saturday morning, May 19.

Commissioner Wooten got a big turnout at her last big cleanup in 2016 and hopes for more volunteers this time. This year, Dade Public Library manager Marshana Sharp offered the library as a gathering spot. Times will be announced. Commissioner Wooten said the main thrust will focus on Veterans Park and the Highway 136/11 thoroughfares but householders are encouraged to jump in, too. “I’d love someone to take charge of their neighborhood,” she said.

Commissioner Powell reported the city ballfields are busy and that the civics center had been rented 109 hours in March. Two dog bites had been reported, he said.

TSPLOST, the proposed extra SPLOST penny to be dedicated to transportation projects, is the monster issue of this election cycle and it made itself felt at the city meeting though no tax protestors showed up this time. Mayor Case talked at some length about potholes, paving and sidewalks—school kids walk up and down Highway 136 both East and West from the middle and high schools, respectively, he pointed out.

“But if this passes,” asked Jerry Henegar, “how are we going to prioritize our projects?”

“We know what’s bad,” said the mayor.

Streets Commissioner Wooten added her observations about her department having to patch certain roads every time it rains. “They’re spending all their time going back and putting Band-aids on it,” she said.

Mayor Case named various equipment the city could use TSPLOST money for—stripers, dump trucks, leaf picker-uppers—but said sidewalks and streets would probably be the priorities.

Case pointed out that Dade County (which would get 75 percent of every TSPLOST penny if the measure passes, the residual 25 percent going to Trenton) has posted a list of its TSPLOST projects and other TSPLOST information on its website, and said Trenton might shortly do the same on its own site. Henegar interjected the concern that the city might get in trouble for seeming to campaign for the tax, and Case agreed to take that into consideration.

Since then the city has in fact put a TSPLOST information tab into its website, with a project list. You can see that at Interestingly, the only mention of sidewalks on the list is under the $600,000 project called Streetscape; but at the April 9 meeting, Mayor Case discussed the engineering and private property permissions needed for sidewalks.

Sidewalks are one initiative TSPLOST funds would be used for, said the mayor. Here, a DCHS student texts as she walks on the pavement of 136 East.

​Library manager Marshana Sharp reminded all about the library’s health fair at the Dade Festival of Life this Saturday and about the annual Dade First Glow Run for child abuse awareness, at the Dade High track on April 27—gates open at 8 p.m.; free T-shirts; call the library for information at (706) 657-7857.

Chamber of Commerce director Cheryl Painter invited the city to the chamber golf tournament on June 9 and said preparations are underway for a giant “1945 Dade County Fair”-themed July 4 celebration downtown. She and the mayor both emphasized next week’s chamber luncheon—noon on Thursday, April 19, at the Dade Administrative Building—where guest speaker Seth Millican of the Georgia Transportation Alliance will discuss, guess what, TSPLOST .

Eloise Gass said Tree City had planted a tree in honor of the recently deceased Terry Cameron, of whom she eulogized: “He could play a guitar as good as Chet Atkins.”

(Photo: The mayor with Tree City's Eloise Gass.)

Commissioner Henegar had arranged a special presentation at the Monday meeting: The city honored Noah Hodges, a Dade County High School freshman who saved his father from choking last month, and Dennis Kelley, the paramedic who had taught young Hodges the Heimlich maneuver he used in the rescue. Henegar stressed the lifesaving importance of the CPR training DCHS instituted for students after the 20-year quest of retired public nurse Verenice Hawkins. The youthful hero, Noah, was induced to retell the story of the steak, the dad and the squeeze. His modest narrative was fleshed out by his proud mother, Cheryl.

All three Hodges were present, Cheryl, Noah and rescued dad Tommy, as was Dennis Kelley.

The Trenton City Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at City Hall.

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