ELIZABETHTOWN —Those in favor of a second referendum for the sale of beer and wine throughout Bladen County this year have apparently been delivered a sobering blow.
The Bladen County Commissioners voted 5-4 on Monday to add a referendum for the on-premises sale of beer and wine to the November ballot. However, according to Agnes Stevens, the Public Affairs director for the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission, another referendum cannot be held on the same beverages for a period of three years.
“It looks like the election will not be an option for three years as Bladen had a vote in May,” said Stevens.
In May, during the primary voting with referendums to allow for the sale of beer and wine county wide on the ballot, Bladen County voters defeated the measures. The beer referendum was nixed by a 4,232 to 3,670 vote; the beer referendum lost by a vote of 4,204 to 3,671.
According to N.C. General Statute 18B-604, “No county alcoholic beverage election may be held within three years of the certification of the results of a previous election on the same kind of alcoholic beverages in that county.”
Bladen County Manager Greg Martin said that, as of Wednesday morning, there had not been any discussion about what action, if any, would be necessary from the board.
“According to that statute and the ABC Board, it doesn’t appear it can be held for three years,” said Martin.
County Attorney Leslie Johnson said the Board of Elections contacted Michael Herring at the N.C. ABC Commission and were initially told they could place the item on the ballot — but then later in the day, Herring contacted the board again and stated that, based on the statute, it appeared the board could not add the item and advised the board to contact the county attorney.
Johnson, after reading the statute, contacted Cynthia Shaw and told her not to add the referendum to the ballot. He pointed out that the statute refers to the type of beverage, not whether it is sold on premises or off premises. Johnson said the petition that is circulating to have the referendum added, is also a “moot point.”
Johnson said, “The county board of elections did exactly what they should have done. They got misinformation which was then corrected.”
Martin said the matter was brought up for consideration under the agenda item for matters of interest to commissioners during Monday’s meeting. Commissioner Wayne Edge made the motion to have the referendum added to the November ballot, and Commissioner Mike Cogdell seconded the motion.
Commissioners voting for adding the referendum to the ballot were Delilah Blanks, Cogdell, Daniel Dowless, Edge and Mark Gillespie. Those commissioners voting against adding the referendum to the ballot were Jimmie Smith, Russell Priest, Charles Ray Peterson and Billy Ray Pait.
But the state statute in question, which was also uncovered by the Bladen Journal, trumps any action by the county commissioners.
“I’m as happy as can be about this,” said Bruce Cannon, director of missions for the Bladen Baptist Association. “We were gearing up for another fight against the referendum. But now it appears we’re in the clear … at least for three years.”
Cannon said that he was still disappointed that at least one commissioner who was previously on board against the sale of beer and wine county wide changed their position.
“And his district voted against the referendum in May by a wide margin,” Cannon added. “So he went against his own constituents.”
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Jeff Smith of Dublin was circulating a petition requesting the referendum be added to the November ballot. Cynthia Shaw, director of the Bladen County Board of Elections, said that Smith did come to the Board of Elections office and fill out the paperwork for the petition in a “timely manner.”
“As far as any petition circulating from Jeff Smith, I’ve not received anything from him. No signatures have been submitted to the Board of Elections,” said Shaw. “Obviously, it is going on the ballot in November by resolution of the governing body.”
Currently in Bladen County, the towns of Clarkton, East Arcadia and Elizabethtown allow the sale of both malt beverages and unfortified wine. According to information provided by the N.C. ABC Board, Elizabethtown voters approved the sale of both beverages on June 29, 1976; Clarkton approved the sale of both beverages on Nov. 6, 2001; East Arcadia approved the sale of both beverages on July 10, 1990.
White Lake approved the sale of unfortified wine on Aug. 25, 1981.
Elizabethtown voters also approved the sale of mixed beverages on Sept. 10, 2002 and fortified wine on Oct. 6 ,1981. Elizabethtown voters also approved an ABC store on Oct. 6, 1981.White Lake voters approved the addition of an ABC store to their community on Aug. 25, 1981 along with the approval of the sale of fortified wine. The White Lake ABC Store closed its doors Sept. 1, 1984.