Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said someone needed to fight for God against Starkville’s “whiskey bill.”
He lost, but he fought for nearly a half-hour as he made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to vote against an ordinance that expanded hours businesses can serve alcohol and reduced the minimum distance such businesses can be from a church, school or funeral home.
“Here we are, wanting to bring this alcohol, whiskey, beer and wine within 100 feet of God’s house,” he said. “That’s too close. When people get ready to enter the front door, the side door, the rear door, they can just smell all this whiskey aroma just flowing like a mighty stream, getting all up in your nose trying to go in God’s house. Just all in your nose, in your hair — just everywhere.”
Aldermen approved the ordinance on a 4-3 vote, with Perkins, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposing it. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller voted in favor of the ordinance change.
The board approved an amended version of the ordinance. Walker, before the vote, proposed a compromise to the original ordinance, which would have allowed the sale of alcohol until 1 a.m. every day, to a version that maintains the midnight time limit on Monday through Wednesday.
Businesses can sell alcohol until 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday, and until midnight — rather than 10 p.m. — on sales that begin on Sunday.
The ordinance change also reduces the minimum distance for businesses that serve alcohol from 250 feet to 100 feet from churches, schools and funeral homes. It also allows businesses to serve beer with up to 8 percent alcohol content.
All of the changes match Mississippi statutory limits.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, who supported the measure, said she believed the change was important to allow Starkville’s business community, especially downtown, to continue to flourish.
“The 250 feet is important to our downtown,” she said. “… Downtown is our heartbeat. If our heart does not beat and does not have places and things for people to do in the evening, past the time of 5 o’clock, then we are not going to have a heartbeat.”
The vote was a defeat for Perkins, who spent much of his time alternatively scolding the board about moving alcohol sales closer to churches and proselytizing about his personal faith. Perkins railed against turning Starkville into “Bourbon Street,” and argued “God is not pleased” with the ordinance.
Still, he acknowledged before the vote the bill was likely to pass, but argued he’d ultimately be victorious because of his faith.
“The votes may be here,” Perkins said. “The victory may be tonight. But my victory will be on the day of judgment, when my Savior says ‘Servant, you have given the best service, and you have done a great job.'”
Walker said he was pleased to see the ordinance change.
“I think it’s going to give the city more flexibility, and it’s going to increase the revenue,” Walker said. “There’s no question it has the potential to increase sales tax long term, which I think is the number one issue.”
He said he felt the Sunday night hour change was important, because people go out to watch sporting events that can last longer than the previous 10 p.m. serving limit allowed. Extending hours to midnight Monday will allow dollars that might go elsewhere to stay in Starkville, he said.
Audible gasps filled the packed municipal courtroom as Dorothy Isaac pulled out an unopened Corona beer bottle and set it on the table next to her. A few minutes later, laughs rippled through the room as Police Chief Frank Nichols retrieved the beer and took it to his seat at the side of the room, where it remained for the rest of the evening.
Isaac, who opposed the alcohol ordinance changes and spoke to aldermen about a range of issues before a scheduled public hearing on the matter, pulled the beer out as she spoke.
“I don’t know how it might have gotten out, but I want each one of y’all to take a sip out of it,” Isaac said. “Take a sip, if this is what we want lifting our city. Take a sip. I just want you to know. And when you vote, I’m still gonna say it’s wrong.”
Later on, others voiced their views on the alcohol ordinance. Some, such as attorney Julie Brown who has a law office downtown, favored the changes. She said former Old Venice, a former Italian restaurant where Moe’s currently is on Main Street, served alcohol and helped spark a revitalization of the downtown area.
“The churches are wonderful in the community and we have a lot of churches downtown and in the Russell Street Corridor,” Brown said. “But a lot of them are in retail spots and almost in residences, and they are used once on Wednesday and a little bit on Sunday. The rest of the time there’s just clerical people there. To prohibit this giant distance around such establishments every day of the week, 365 days a year seems very unfair and (like) the tail wagging the dog a little bit.”
Others, such as Starkville native Roy Anne Bell, spoke against the changes.
“We want our community to be blessed and to prosper, but here we sit, considering dishonoring God by allowing drinking establishments to be established within 100 feet of those places we worship in. We’re better than that,” she said. “I’m a proud Starkvillian, and I know that we are better than that.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.