Tupelo approves Sunday liquor, awaits state's OK

TUPELO – City Council members voted 4-3 Tuesday in favor of allowing wine and liquor sales on Sundays in a move that opponents called “sneaky.”
The Mississippi State Tax Commission, which controls strong alcoholic beverages, has final say on the matter. It typically takes about two weeks for that agency to make a decision after getting the request.
If it’s approved, Tupelo will become the third Northeast Mississippi city this year to allow Sunday liquor sales after Starkville and Columbus. All three cities also permit beer and wine cooler sales seven days a week.
And though this week’s measure passed quietly, it wasn’t without controversy. Opponents of Sunday alcohol sales criticized the council for voting without first seeking public comment.
“I hadn’t even heard about it until Sunday night, and then two days later there’s a vote,” said Forrest Sheffield, pastor at Harrisburg Baptist Church and an outspoken teetotaler. “People are upset the council has not given the citizens of the community an opportunity to have the spoken word.”
He went on to say it had the impression of “sneaky, hidden back-room politics” and that it was forced upon the public.
West Jackson Street Baptist Church Pastor Bert Harper asked the council to postpone a decision until more residents can comment.
Neither pastor was scheduled to speak, but the council voted to allowed them five minutes each.
Council President Fred Pitts, however, disagreed the measure was sprung upon the public without notice. He told the Daily Journal that the group’s earlier decision to permit Sunday beer sales clearly signaled its intention to get liquor sales, too.
The beer vote, he said, was just the first step of a two-step process. Unlike the beer vote, though, the liquor vote doesn’t require a public hearing because the municipal ordinance won’t change. And, in that case, there was no need to alert the public or seek comments, said city attorney Guy Mitchell.
“This is all by the book,” Pitts said. “There’s nothing sneaky about it.”
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan disagreed. He said no one had mentioned hard liquor when the council debated Sunday sales in September. Had it come up, Bryan said, even residents in favor of Sunday beer would have opposed Sunday liquor.
He also said the council could have held a public hearing on the matter even though it wasn’t legally required.
Bryan, who himself didn’t know about the measure until Friday, had tried to table it but failed to get enough votes.
Also opposing Sunday liquor sales were Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis and Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

At a glance
Sunday alcohol sales in other Northeast Mississippi cities:
* Columbus – Beer, wine and liquor from 10 a.m. to midnight
* Oxford – No Sunday alcohol sales except for establishments with resort status
* Starkville – Beer, wine and liquor from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
* Corinth – No Sunday alcohol sales
Vote tally
For Sunday liquor sales
* Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington
* Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts
* Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell
* Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis
Against Sunday liquor sales
* Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis
* Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan
* Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal