Let the people decide. Or maybe not.

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners chairman Brian Anderson wanted to alert other commissioners on Monday that if they want to place a referendum to allow the sale of liquor by the drink on the November ballot they would have to hold public hearings and vote on the matter no later than their August business meeting.

But a crowd of about 100 people who didn’t want to wait on any public hearings to voice their opposition to the referendum packed the board’s work session Monday night.

“If you want to put that on the agenda, let us know,” Anderson told his fellow commissioners, adding two commissioners would have to make the request.

Anderson told audience members that if the board did choose to put the measure on their agenda, they would hold a public hearing before the meeting.

But when several audience members said they didn’t want to wait, Anderson opened the floor for comments.

“We agree that we would not like to see a more liberal approach to alcohol. We are asking you to leave it off the ballot,” said Dan Hocker, pastor of Christian Fellowship Assembly.

Hocker and others pointed to the damage that drunk drivers have caused.

“We see people in the paper everyday who have been killed by drunk drivers,” said Helen Kizer.

Altoona Holland told board members that alcohol is a drug.

“If you vote for this, you might as well vote for the trade center to sell marijuana,” he said.

But Mark Fidler said the board shouldn’t make its decision based on the voices of a few people, but should let all voters have a chance to vote on the measure.

“This is not the way it’s supposed to be,” he said.

Fidler pointed out there’s never been a referendum on this issue in Whitfield County, and voters haven’t had a chance to voice their opinion.

Commissioner Odell Cochran said he is not in favor of allowing a referendum.

“I’ve got two grandchildren who carry scars because of a drunk driver. Every time I think of liquor by the drink, I think of them,” he said.

During the meeting, commissioner Leo Whaley said he agreed with Cochran. But afterwards he said he had “mixed emotions.”

“The people here tonight spoke of heartbreak and suffering, and I feel for that,” he said.

“But at the same time, I feel that who am I to keep the voters from deciding. I trust the people to make the right decision,” Whaley said.

Commissioner Mike Cowan said he thought many of the people who attended the meeting didn’t understand the process.

“I think some of the people think we will be the ones to decide whether there will be liquor by the drink in Whitfield County. We won’t. If anyone makes that decision, it will be the voters,” he said.

Cowan said some of the people also seemed to confuse this proposal with a referendum being discussed by the Dalton City Council that would permit Sunday alcohol sales.

“If we do send a referendum to voters, it will not include Sunday sales,” he said.

Commissioner Pete Pangle was absent Monday.

The board also held the first reading of a proposed stormwater management ordinance. The ordinance would govern new construction and attempt to manage both the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff.

The board is scheduled to vote on that ordinance at its August meeting.

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