Letter to the Editor: Citizen expresses opinion on each alcohol referendum

To the Editor,
This is the second of a series of letters regarding the impending vote to increase alcohol sales in the city of Ruston. To recap, in 2002 the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce successfully led a petition drive to give voters the option to vote on five measures regulating alcohol sales. Options #1 and #2 were already legal in Ruston: this is the sale of beer/low alcohol content beverages in bars and retail outlets. The Chamber wanted to add one additional option, #5, which would allow restaurants to sell wine and mixed drinks to their patrons (and hopefully attract a movie theater, which it did). The chamber and its PAC, LINCPAC,  successfully led a strategic campaign to keep options #1 and #2 on the books (for if they failed it would be disastrous for the local tax base – a risk totally disregarded by the proponents of the current election), and gain the passage of option #5. The Chamber’s campaign also sought to prevent the passage of options #3 And #4  – the sale of liquor and wine at bars without a restaurant (#3), and the sale of wine and liquor by liquor stores, grocery stores and convenience stores (#4). We were obviously successful in keeping these off the books. 
The Chamber board of Directors, composed entirely of civic-minded volunteers, was chaired at that time by local educator and entrepreneur Sam Dauzat – I was the Chamber’s paid Executive Director. The Chamber formed LINCPAC, the educational and fundraising organization vital to the success of the “Restaurant Referendum” and Sam and I set off on a search to find the right person to chair LINCPAC. After the search had drug on for a few weeks the two of us were at Maxwell‘s Restaurant attending Mrs. Virginia Marbury‘s birthday party. As we were going through the buffet line I looked up and across the room saw a local icon who had recently moved back to our community, Mickey McHale. I suggested to Sam that he was our man and we approached him right then and there. He did not hesitate. He saw the merit of our effort and agreed to take on the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But that’s enough past history for today – let’s return to more recent events and the issue that is upon us. In the November 2022 meeting of the Ruston city council alderman Bruce Sigmund introduced an ordinance that would limit the sale of liquor in the event options #3 and #4 were to be voted in. The proposed ordinance was twofold: in order to limit the impact of option #4 it proposed to restrict alcohol sales by liquor stores, grocery stores and convenience stores to outlets with a minimum of 30,000 interior heated square feet with alcohol sales not being more than 50% of the establishments business. The second limitation targets liquor bars as allowed by option #3. According to the November 9, 2022 edition of the Ruston Daily Leader this ordinance would confine liquor bars to an entertainment district bounded on the south by California Avenue, the north by Interstate 20, on the west by Tech Drive and on the east by Bonner and Vienna Streets. The ordinance also stuck a finger to the east of downtown Ruston, beyond Bonner, along East Mississippi to include the site of the city’s old diesel power plant adjacent to the Ruston Farmer’s Market. The ordinance states that liquor bars will be at least 1320 feet from each other within this district.
For the record I will always be opposed to option #3, the liquor bar option. I just think allowing wide open liquor bars in a college town is a bad idea regardless of location.  Also, as a downtown property owner and businessman I do not appreciate the only bars allowed if option #3 passes could be right next door or right across the street from my business. I’m sure many other downtown property owners and occupants feel the same way. I am voting YES on option #1, YES on option #2, NO on option #3 and YES on option #5.
But what about option #4? Fast forward to the December 2022 meeting of Ruston’s governing body. I must confess that with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season I didn’t realize a substantial and material change had taken place in the proposed law introduced a month earlier by the city council to try to limit the impact of bars and liquor stores in Ruston until I began my research for this series of letters. The fact is that the city council made a significant pivot to the downside in their effort to protect us. The ordinance brought to the table for passage in December had diminished control significantly to only require fifteen thousand square feet of heated interior space for permitted liquor stores, and therein lies the rub fellow citizens. While state law governs the overall distribution of alcohol in a locality by popular vote, the local governing bodies have the right to impose limitations on where those laws can be effected. This means that in the future just 3 people (a majority on our current 5 member board of aldermen) could also ELIMINATE ALL RESTRICTIONS on the sale of alcohol in our fair city making it wide open for bars, liquor stores and all the other problems that come with them when unrestricted.
Again, I commend our city leaders for trying to do the right thing, but with the realization that these restrictions can be undone with the vote of just 3 persons I must vote NO on option #4 as well and urge you to do the same.
To close, I want to say there are huge differences between the 2002 effort led by the Chamber of Commerce that brought a veritable EXPLOSION of growth to our local tax base, without which we may very well not have such niceties as our Sports Complex and we definitely would not have seen a first class movie theater open here over 15 years ago. I will expound more on the differences in these two elections in my third and final letter. In the interim please remember that evil triumphs when good men do nothing.
Andy Halbrook 
Concerned Citizen

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