Archive for Thursday, December 29, 2005

December vote was a civics lesson

December 29, 2005

Baldwin City has just witnessed something that not many other cities have. The December alcohol election was one for the books, with so many strange and twisted angles that a scorecard was necessary to keep track.

Perhaps Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said it best.

"This has been interesting and it's been fun," Shew said after the vote canvass Tuesday by the Douglas County Commission that made the outcome official.

In the end, the no vote won 200-181. What does that mean? Alcohol can be sold in Baldwin on Sundays -- other than Easter and whenever Christmas falls on Sunday, such as just happened -- in package form. What's that? Six packs, 12-packs, 30-packs, etc., and liquor in bottles.

Of course, the oddity of the ballot wording has been well documented. A no vote was for alcohol, while a yes vote was against it. I don't care what anyone says, that's just weird. Of all the things I'd like to know about this election, I'd like to know how many people voted no against alcohol and yes for alcohol that voted the wrong way.

We'll probably never know and it doesn't matter.

There were plenty of lessons learned throughout the whole process. Really, it was a civics lesson put on display for all to see. It showed that, indeed, you can fight City Hall ... but you may not win.

The issue of Sunday alcohol sales was hotly debated. The proponents wanted it for business purposes, for the right to be open when they wanted to be open and to sell what they wanted to sell. Frank Foye, owner of Santa Fe Market, was first to bring Sunday sales to the attention of the Baldwin City Council. It was a new law allowing such sales. Steve Larrick, owner of CoolCat Liquor, approached the council about the same matter at the following meeting.

That put the matter on the council's agenda. It also brought unusually large crowds to the next two council meetings where the new ordinance was discussed. Opponents to Sunday sales cited religious and quality of life reasons.

In the end, the council approved the measure on a split 3-2 vote. Council Members Ted Brecheisen Jr., Tony Brown and Council President Amy Cleavinger voted for the sales, citing business reasons. Council Members Nancy Brown and Doyle Jardon voted against it without citing reasons.

Baldwin City resident Charlene Coates was in the audience when the measure was passed. She promised that she would have a protest petition signed and delivered to the county clerk within the 60-day time span allowed. She came through on her promise.

That caused a mad scramble. Coates had come up with 150 signatures, although she only needed 85. She had been told to get extras in case some signatures weren't valid. She had plenty to spare.

By Nov. 17, Shew had determined that 85 of the signatures were valid Baldwin residents. He informed the city. The city had 45 days to conduct the election. That meant it had to be done by Jan. 1. Dec. 22 was the date chosen by the city council as the lesser of many evils for the vote. Holiday time isn't a good time for a vote.

But, word was certainly spread. Of course, so did the theories, etc., of how such a bad election time was chosen. Many thought the opponents had worked the system deftly on purpose to ensure that Baker University students would be gone for Christmas break and wouldn't vote. After initially pondering the same thing, I came to the opinion that wasn't the case after Coates stopped by my office. She wasn't going to be here Dec. 22 and admitted the election date would cause her problems, too.

Of course, election day itself had lots of excitement. No one knew what the turnout would be like, much less the outcome. I checked all three polling places throughout the day. Because it was a city-only election, I could do that. I tracked how many people were showing up and it looked like a good turnout to me.

About midway through the day, another lesson was learned. I was asked by polling officials if the bars were open. I said I didn't know. The fear was that if alcohol was being sold on election day, the vote would be negated. I went and checked. Sure enough, the bars and the liquor stores were open. For us oldtimers, it used to be that alcohol couldn't be sold until the polls closed. Well, come to find out, that law was changed in 1994. I didn't know that and neither did anyone else I asked. So, another lesson learned.

As for the claim that opponents figured the dates just right so Baker students wouldn't vote, again I say no. If they did, they didn't factor in that Baldwin college students who were home for break would vote. I know of at least 10 college students that voted who normally wouldn't have and I'm sure there are more.

But, again, that's beside the point. The vote totals are in, Sunday alcohol sales win. But, it wasn't by much. A 19-vote margin is much like that 3-2 vote the council made. It was close. And, of course, there are many stories I've been told about people who didn't vote and they were on both sides of the issue. They forgot or were busy or whatever.

And, there is the final civics lesson for the day. Joyce Callahan, who opposed Sunday sales, said this one best.

"One vote can make a difference," said Callahan.

Yes, folks, if we didn't learn anything else about this wild ride, it's that every vote counts. Remember that next time when it's time to vote. But, let's hope that's in April or November or even August. I've never seen a December election before and I don't care to again.

Santa Claus is too busy as it is and the early Christmas presents for the no voters and the lumps of coal for the yes voters may have soured good ol' Saint Nick on Baldwin for awhile. Ho, ho, ho, Merry Trickmas.

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