Dade County Commission Hears Arguments for Event Alcohol Sales, Suing Big Pharma

October 9, 2019


The Dade County Commission took no action on Dade's embryonic zoning ordinance at its regular October meeting on Thursday. In fact, it took very little action on anything at all, but a few interesting points did emerge, if only for discussion, at the Oct. 3 meeting.


First, the county’s lingering, still-restrictive blue laws may be loosening up another notch at some point in the not-so-distant future. Patty Murphy of the Dade Alcoholic Beverage Control Board—more commonly referred to as the beer board—presented the commission a request to allow alcohol sales at special events such as weddings and concerts. As the ordinance is written, she pointed out in a letter she had previously sent to each commissioner, it only supports legal sales at 18 county stores and two restaurants.


Ms. Murphy, accompanied by beer board chairman Smokey Russell, said the board had been approached by a number of local wedding venues including Oakleaf Cottage and Lilly Lou’s. Allowing alcohol sales at these events—at which guests currently drink anyway, through the “brown bag” technique allowed by law—would not only increase revenue to the county through special event license fees but make these events less likely to generate drunk-driving problems.


Weddings at the venues, she explained, are frequently catered by specialty firms from Chattanooga that employ licensed bartenders. Bartenders are trained to cut off guests who’ve been overindulging, she said, and thus make serving alcoholic beverages at celebrations a safer proposition. 


Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley brought up the ordinance’s specification that alcohol sales could only happen along major thoroughfares. Ms. Murphy said not all wedding venues were on big roads, and that a mud run, for instance, might be out in a field. “I don’t think you can say it has to be on a public highway,” she said.


The commissioners discussed liability and the need for rules. “I think we’ve got to spend some time on it,” said District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff. Ms. Murphy agreed to consult with County Attorney Robin Rogers about particulars and come back to the commission when they had hammered out something in writing. “But I do think this is something that we need to consider,” she said.


Next: Lamar Lowery brought up the upcoming SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) renewal referendum. The one-cent local tax the county uses to buy everything from road paving equipment to police cruisers is up for renewal in 2020, and the county had decided to put the question to the public in the presidential preference primary on March 24. But what happens if Georgia cancels that primary, as five other states have done so far, asked Lowery. Maybe the date should be changed to the regular primary in May?


Possible dates for the SPLOST referendum are set by statue, said County Attorney Rogers. “I don’t know if the general primary is one of them but I could look and see,” he said. Chairman Rumley said a meeting on SPLOST had been set for this Thursday, Oct. 10, and the commissioners could take the matter back up then. That meeting is at 5 p.m.



Next: The commission heard a pitch from a personal injury lawyer about suing Purdue Pharma for its role in causing Dade’s share of the national opioid addiction pandemic. Dade, said Mark Tate of Tate Law in Savannah, is rife with opioid abuse; he knew that from looking at the incidence of prescriptions. “We know there is a huge inundation of drugs in Dade County,” he said. “You have pharmacies that are really pumping a lot of drugs into the system.”


Photo: Attorneys Mark Tate (right) and Marshall Vandy invite Dade to try for a piece of the sue-opioid-supplier action.


Tate said Purdue Pharma had created the biggest addiction crisis in U.S. history by bribing doctors to publish fake studies about the wonders of opioids, even threatening them with malpractice suits if they didn’t prescribe them. The tide had turned, though, with states and smaller governments suing the drug company to recover their costs in emergency medical service and other addiction-related expenses. “Now everybody wants in,” he said. “Every lawyer in America is shaking the trees.”


In shaking Dade’s tree, Tate pointed out as a selling point that he’d been in the Purdue-suing business for six years. He explained that though many governments are involved this is not a class action suit but a situation in which every government stands on its own for damages. “If you don’t file, you’re going to get something. If you do file, you’ll get more,” he said. If Dade hired him and triumphed in court, he’d charge 25 percent of Dade’s award, plus expenses, he said; if he lost, he got nothing, not even the expenses.


The commission took no action on Tate’s proposal beyond hearing him out.


In his monthly report to the public, District 2 Commissioner Goff said SPLOST collections for September were $228,000. In the last 16 months, only one month had been under $200,000, he said. And he put in a plug to voters for renewing the SPLOST in the aforementioned 2020 vote. Don’t look at SPLOST projects that never get done, he urged; look at the police cars and computers, et cetera, SPLOST routinely buys for the county.


District 4’s Allan Bradford reminded all that the New Salem Festival is this weekend, Oct. 12 and 13. Admission is $5, kids under 12 free. That’s at the New Salem Community Center on Highway 136 East.. He also put in another reminder for Dade’s Tire Amnesty Day on Saturday, Oct. 19, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Dade residents may dispose of as many as 20 tires apiece that day for free. In his monthly "State of the Dump" he said for September, Dade’s transfer station had processed 632 tons of garbage.


Chairman Rumley said some work had begun on the long-awaited Lookout Lake dam project and more would happen this week. He said after the Sept. 30 hearing on Dade’s new land-use ordinance: “We’ve got a lot more to do on that.” Adjustments and changes were underway, he said. “We’ll keep everyone up to date on it,” promised the county boss. 


Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Public Library, said there was still time to set up a booth for the library’s Halloween on the Square children’s event. That’s Saturday, Oct 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and if you want a booth please call (706) 657-7857.


Alison Henderson, reporting for Dade 4-H said the Tri-State Cattleman will meet in the county Ag Building at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month, and that BB and .22 shooting team registration is Dec. 11. You can call 4-H at (706) 657-4116 for more information. 

The Dade High School Homecoming Parade roared through the town square smack in the middle of the commission meeting as it has throughout the years. This time, though, there was a poignancy that was only revealed later: A catastrophic auto accident shortly before the parade, which was also responsible for the absence from the meeting of Dade EMS director Alex Case, who was assisting at the scene, had claimed the life of one member of the high school marching band and injured two others. “We made the decision to announce this devastating news after the parade,”

 wrote Superintendent Jan Harris subsequently in her weekly report (available on The Planet’s homepage).


The three teens had crashed head-on with another vehicle on Daniels Road. The other vehicle was occupied by the daughter and two grandsons of Nathan and Monda Wooten, the former a candidate for county executive in next year’s election, the latter a Trenton city commissioner. The young family sustained less serious injuries than the students, and are recovering well, reported the Wootens later.


Back to the commission meeting: Landlord Jerry Fagan appeared before the commission during its citizens’ participation segment to complain about Newsome Gap Road in Johnson’s Crook, where he had bought some properties and planned to buy more. The road is in such a miserable state, said Fagan, that guests won’t drive their nice cars to weddings at the wedding venue in the Crook, home of the fraudulent and now-abandoned Preserve at Rising Fawn development. Fagan said he'd fix the road at his own expense and then: “I’ll deduct it from my taxes and make the county sue me.”


Rumley answered that Newsome Gap along with Sulphur Springs Gap--both dirt roads up Lookout Mountain--is the least traveled road in the county though: "It’s a mail route and we keep it travelable." Still, he said, help is on the way for Newsome Gap, at least for the section near Fagan's properties. “It’s in the near future that you’re going to get your road fixed, that part of it,” said Rumley.


J.J. Rorex, a citizen who spoke at the Sept. 30 zoning hearings, again took the dais at this meeting to encourage the commission to keep its chin up in the face of all the criticism its draft ordinance took earlier in the week. “You’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of faith that y’all are going to do us right.”


The Dade County Commission meets regularly at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month in the Dade Administrative Building. The next regular meeting is Nov. 7.


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