By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In this college town, Sunday alcohol sales is the issue that will not die.
After the Oxford Board of Aldermen recently had tabled the unanimous recommendations of a task force to legalize restaurant sales of liquor, wine, beer and light wine and sales of off-premises beer and wine every Sunday, it revisited the issue Tuesday night.
Members voted 4-3 to ask the state Alcohol Beverage Control board for permission to open on-premises sales from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day when it falls on Sunday, and the Sunday of any weekend on which the University of Mississippi plays a home football game.
Mayor George “Pat” Patterson left the issue in limbo, noting he has until the Dec. 21 meeting to decide whether to veto the measure.
“I have worked more on this thing than anything else in the 10 years I’ve served on this board,” he said. “I have never been more conflicted over any issue.”
Jerry Jordan, who has frequently represented the Oxford Restaurant Association’s views on the issue, said the “culture of alcohol” is a separate issue from Sunday sales. The task force’s research, he said, showed Sundays remain peaceful even where alcohol is served.
Ward 5 Alderman Ulysses “Coach” Howell said the proposed hours would result, in at least two downtown locations, in “a church opening on one side of the street and a bar opening on the other.”
Downtown resident Becky Moreton said the limited schedule, if passed, would be “only an opening wedge,” opening Sundays to the noise, drunken behavior and trash that occur downtown on other weekend evenings.
“The people who live around the Square will have to put up with one more evening of … the things we put up with on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” she said.
Even if Patterson decides to support the vote, ABC’s approval is not guaranteed. The issue was ratcheted up earlier this year after the agency turned down a one-time variance that would allow Sunday alcohol sales on Valentine’s Day. Several similar requests had been routinely approved in previous years.
In a related but separate issue, the board hosted a first reading of a draft ordinance to allow sales of beer and light wine at grocery and convenience stores from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Under the proposal, it would be sold at room temperature, as it is now on other days.
Ward 3 Alderman Janice Antonow said off-premises sales would temper the temptation to drive elsewhere to buy beer.
“Most people know if adults run out of beer on Sundays, they go to Marshall County to buy beer, and they buy cold beer there and drink it on the way home,” she said. “It seems to me a safety issue. … The main consideration is to keep people from driving out of the county.”
The board will hold a public hearing on the Sunday beer ordinance on Dec. 21. If no major changes occur, board members will vote on it on Jan. 4.
Patterson, who has publicly expressed his frustration with repeatedly addressing the same alcohol issues, said he will veto the beer ordinance even if he decides to sustain the limited Sunday on-premises resolution.
“I’m going to veto any other alcohol measures that come up in the next two-and-a-half years,” he said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.