Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2006

McLouth to vote on liquor store issue

October 19, 2006

McLouth voters will be asked Nov. 7 to decide the fate of the city's lone liquor store.

A "yes" vote will be a vote against a liquor store, and a "no" vote will be a vote for a liquor store.

Last Thursday in Jefferson County District Court, Judge Gary Nafziger upheld the legality of a petition that places this question on the ballot in McLouth: "No retailer's license shall be issued for premises within the city of McLouth, Kansas for the sale at retail of alcoholic liquor in the original package."

In August, Charles Karmann opened Karmann's Liquor, McLouth's first package store in at least 75 years.

Technically, since Prohibition ended, liquor stores have been legal in McLouth. But city ordinance required that a package liquor store be at least 1,000 feet from a school, church or hospital.

"Since McLouth is about 1,000 feet across, it's tantamount to excluding a package retail store anywhere within the city," Tuck Duncan, attorney for Karmann, said at Thursday's hearing.

Karmann's venture into opening a liquor store began a year ago, when Senate Bill 298 went into effect. This was an amendment to the state's liquor control act. According to Duncan, it came about as a result of recently enacted Wyandotte County ordinances that allowed for Sunday sales of package liquor.

The amendment to the state's liquor law was an attempt to establish uniform liquor laws throughout Kansas. When the law went into effect last November, liquor stores became legal in all Kansas cities -- with the stipulation that the stores be at least 200 feet from schools and churches.

Cities were given three months to change local laws to prohibit liquor sales.

McLouth's city council took no action, and in February, the new state law went into effect.

Within weeks after Karmann opened his liquor store, McLouth residents began circulating a petition to allow McLouth voters to vote on whether the city would allow the sale of package liquor. By early September, the necessary 69 valid signatures had been turned into the Jefferson County clerk's office. By Sept. 15, the petition was submitted to the city of McLouth.

But Karmann filed suit, saying the wording of the petition was confusing. He also said the petition was submitted to the county clerk 62 days prior to the election, outside of the 40- to 60-day window that's required.

Thursday, Judge Nafziger upheld the petition, saying it was filed with the city clerk of McLouth in the proper time frame. Nafziger also supported the petition's wording.

"To me, it's not confusing," Nafziger said. "Voters if they wish to prohibit sales vote yes, if they want things to stay as they are they vote no. ... It is plain, it's clear and not ambiguous and the court finds it sufficient as to form."

On Tuesday, Karmann said he had decided against appealing the judge's ruling.

"I would love to appeal because I think I'm right," Karmann said. "But with the time we have left I couldn't get in court quick enough to get a decision. I think I'm better off spending my time trying to educate people on how you have to vote to keep the liquor sales."

If voters turn down liquor stores in McLouth, Karmann would have 90 days to close his business.

In that event, he could carry his own petition next spring to allow McLouth voters a chance to vote for a liquor store in April.

"I could get 69 signatures," Karmann said.

His sentiments echoed a statement McLouth city attorney Rex Lane made at Thursday's hearing.

Lane said if the Nov. 7 vote prohibits package liquor sales in McLouth, someone could carry a petition next year to allow the sales.

"This is grassroots democracy at its absolute best," Lane said. "The citizens are the ones expressing their desires through the ballot. It doesn't get any more elemental in the United States than that."

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