Dade District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline had no trouble convincing the Dade Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, or so-called beer board, to amend Dade's alcohol ordinance. But his fellow commissioners at their regular November meeting last Thursday were having none of it.
“You make changes, what’s the next change?” asked District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff. "When you start hacking away, what’s next?"
At its Oct. 29 meeting, Hartline had proposed to the beer board changes to Dade's ordinance language governing alcohol by the drink to permit sales of mixed drinks within the same geographical limitations as beer and wine. As it stands, the ordinance permits malt beverages to be sold within two miles of an interstate highway exit or entrance ramp, or along a state highway. Meanwhile, distilled spirits are allowed to be served only within two miles of an interstate exit, without the or clause about the state highway.
Since tiny, rural Dade doesn't have that many restaurants to begin with, and since only a handful of those serve or allow alcohol, what Hartline's suggested changes would do, in effect, is allow those on Lookout Mountain that already serve beer and wine--which boils down to the Mtn Top Café--and those who now allow brown-bagging, and might feasibly be imagined to apply for a beer/wine license in the future--Lookout Mountain Pizza and the Canyon Grill-- to also apply for a distilled spirits license.
The Lookout Mountain eateries are on highways 136 and 157, respectively, so they qualify under the state highway rule, but they're nowhere near the interstate. They are also closest to Cloudland Canyon and Lookout Mountain Flight Park, Dade's biggest tourist draws.
But at the county commission's Nov. 7 meeting, Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley pointed out that the two-mile rule had been designed to facilitate law enforcement access to establishments that sold strong spirits. "It was done for a reason," he said.
District 1's Lamar Lowery asked what Dade Sheriff Cross had had to say. Hartline said he and the sheriff had agreed to disagree. "His job as sheriff is to keep everybody safe," he said. His own job, though, was to be responsive to county residents, and it wasn't fair to allow restaurant owners in one part of county to serve when those in others were forbidden to.
District 4's Allan Bradford also expressed concern about ease in patrolling the state highway district. But it was, again, Goff who made the real stand for temperance. The ordinance hadn't been around that long, he said, and somebody had already tried to shake off the minimum-seating rule. (Dade's ordinance requires restaurants that serve alcohol to be prepared to serve a lot of it; only those with 60 or more seats need apply, a rule that weeds out smaller mom-and-pop style establishments. Goff acknowledged that with the reminder that the referendum had been launched in the first place to allow for big chain restaurants.)
If the commission said yes to Hartline's proposed change, said Goff, the next step might be stripping away the requirement that establishments that serve alcohol also serve food, until eventually Dade might allow the "stop-in-here-on-your-way-home type of thing.”
(File shot of Robert Goff, from a 2016 work session when, even before the liquor referendum, he stressed the need to make rules to keep "honkey-tonks" out of Dade should it pass. Click the photo to travel back in time and read The Planet's contemporaneous account, entitled "It Isn't Goff Who'll Make Honky-tonk Angels."
And that, said Goff, was more a matter for public hearings than the commission. "I want to hear from residents and communities, do they want this in their neighborhood,” he said.
“When they voted 57 percent to have liquor by the drink, that was not what they wanted?” asked Hartline.
Goff explained that what the voters had voted for was liquor by the drink as governed by the rules of the commission. "If we had come out and voted for liquor by the drink in every neighborhood in Dade County, that vote probably have been a lot different," he said.
By way of history, Goff also explained to citizens back in 2017 that what they had voted yes to in the 2016 referendum was not liquor by the drink but the commission's authority to make rules for it. He subsequently told the ones who turned out in force at commission meetings to speak against the 60-seat-minimum rule (which was impeding Lookout Mountain Pizza from qualifying for a license) that it was the commission's job to represent the citizens who had voted no to liquor.
Again, though, this time Goff said he'd like to hear from the public on the issue.
"How many people do I have to have interested in this to change before y'all would consider changing it?" asked Hartline (left).
He didn't precisely get an answer. Both Goff and Rumley pointed out there was no restaurant "on the hoof," as Rumley put it, currently agitating for the commission to change its rules. Rumley recommended waiting to vote on the proposed changes until next month's meeting, when the sheriff could be there to weigh in.
Meanwhile, if readers would like to weigh in on the issue themselves--and remember, Goff in particular has requested input--here is a list of the county commissioners' telephone numbers and emails:
Office, County Commission: 706-657-4357
Commissioner Allan Bradford 423-413-0245
Commissioner Robert Goff 423-503-0618
Commissioner Phillip Hartline 423-883-5844
Chairman/County Executive Ted Rumley 423-667-8999
Commissioner Lamar Lowery 423-661-4411
Readers may email any of the commissioners by following this link to the appropriate county website page: