No Booze Allowed

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 8, 2008

JACKSON – As one commissioner put it, “The people of Northampton County have spoken.”

On Thursday night, citizens filled the benches of a small courtroom at 100 West Jefferson Street to express their opinion to their elected officials during a public hearing about whether or not to allow the use of alcohol at the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center.

At the end of the meeting, views had been expressed, petitions and letters had been presented and the commissioners had approved a motion to adopt the policy that does not allow alcohol at the center.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins set the ground rules, asking the citizens to keep their comments short (2-3 minutes), for groups/organizations to designate a spokesperson and to show respect and be courteous to one another.

Jenkins said two options lay before the board. Option number one does not allow the use of alcohol, while option number two included an alcohol policy. The options were generated by the Cultural and Wellness Operations Committee, which consist of several county officials and two commissioners, Chair Robert Carter (D-4th) and James Hester (D-1st).

Jenkins also stated that county officials were the stewards of taxpayers’ money and sought to maximize the value of those tax dollars. He continued that one way of doing this was generate more revenue that comes into the county. Hence, the debate about whether or not alcohol should be allowed in the multi-purpose room for private gatherings at Cultural and Wellness Center as it may attract revenue.

In all, 13 citizens came before the board during the public hearing to express their views on the topic.

Harold Miller opposed the use of alcohol at the center, stating he could not see the words “wellness” and “alcohol” in the same boat.

Miller noted there were country clubs in the area and to “help them survive.”

Floyd Grant had the opposite view of Miller.

“I’m in favor of the use of alcohol at the center,” he said. “We’re going to require revenue in any event you don’t want to further tax the people in Northampton County.”

Grant said with restrictions in place those events with alcohol would not interfere with other events.

Health Director Sue Gay said she came before the board as both a citizen of the county and as the Health Director.

She said when she took her oath it included promoting the wellness of Northampton County citizens and she looks at data in relation to alcohol abuse, alcohol violence, vehicular accidents and infant mortality rate, which occurs more with substance abuse.

“Alcohol is a substance,” she said.

Gay continued by the project had been marketed as a “Wellness Center” and how it may interfere with funding from Health and Wellness Trust Fund.

Gay said she opposed the use of alcohol at the center.

Elaine Grant supported the idea of allowing alcohol at the center.

Grant said she had watched the project closely and knew the county had worked tirelessly to get phase one of the project in operation.

“I would hate to have anything separate us now,” she said.

Grant said her non-profit organization, the Progressive Women’s Guild, was one of the first groups to make a contribution to the project.

“Not all alcohol abuse is abuse,” she said.

Grant said with many events, champagne/wine toasts are common and with restrictions, officers and permits in place, alcohol abuse would not be a factor.

Grant also took issue with rule that allowed alcohol for the following events: wedding receptions/anniversaries, Chamber of Commerce events, Economic development functions, class reunions and national chapters of fraternity and sororities.

She said non-profits should be added to the list.

Three local reverends also came forward to speak on behalf of their congregations and faith organizations they are affiliated with.

Rev. Willie McLawhorn from Conway Baptist Church said he was against allowing the use of alcohol. He presented a resolution approved by his church.

McLawhorn said he grew up in a home where alcohol was abused and as a teen he could not wait to get away from home.

He said as a pastor he has had experiences dealing with the repercussions of alcohol abuse, including receiving a call early in the morning because one of his young church members had been in a drinking and driving accident.

“It’s not fun and I think anyone in law enforcement would concur,” he said.

Reverend Tony Flood Sr., a pastor from Rich Square, spoke on behalf of the Northampton County Baptist Association.

He said the association strongly opposed the use of alcohol at the center and among the reasons to the opposition was the choice of name for the center.

“No matter how many restrictions you have, nothing can take the place of soberness,” said Flood.

Reverend Robert Sessoms from Zoar Baptist Church spoke on behalf of the Northampton County United Faith Coalition who “strongly opposed use of alcohol.”

One of the reasons Sessoms stated was the mixed message it sends to youth by mixing alcohol and youth.

“There are other private facilities we can call upon,” he said.

He also asked the board to think about the potential liability it would create.

Sessoms also presented a petition, including 609 names, against the use of alcohol at the facility.

Rose Sumner said everything she was going to say in opposition to the use of alcohol at the center had already been said.

“It’s not a country club,” she said.

Retired county employee Hazel Collier agreed with the opposition.

“I never thought I’d see the day when a board would even consider serving alcohol in a county owned and ran facility,” she said.

Board of Education member Donald Johnson also voiced his view in opposition to the use of alcohol in the center.

Johnson said as an advocate of children for more than 30 years, the allowance of alcohol would set a bad example.

“I know with this group of commissioners, with their wisdom, can find another way to generate revenue,” he said.

Marvin Coleman also opposed the idea of allowing alcohol in the center.

Coleman said nothing is more costly than drinking and driving accidents and that it cost $15,000 for each mishap caused by those who climbed behind the wheel under the influence.

He noted North Carolina ranks 6th in a list of states of number of deaths by DWI crashes.

“I am appalled…I am shocked our leaders would consider this and call it a wellness center,” he said.

Linda Boone, a retired health department employee, said she was sure that everyone knew about her opposition to the use of alcohol.

She questioned whether or not the grants used for the project had restrictions as to what the building could or could not be used for.

Jenkins said there was none specified.

Walter Sykes also voiced his opposition to alcohol as an advocate of wellness and youth.

“I find it deplorable,” he said. “What child could benefit from this?”

Jenkins also presented letters from the Northampton County Farm Bureau, Mr. and Mrs. Bernie Futrell and Dr. and Mrs. George Clark—all against the use of alcohol at the center.

Commissioners took only a few moments to discuss the issue during recess as nearly all of the opinion were against the use of alcohol at the center.

“Ladies and gentlemen I don’t believe any debate is necessary,” said Carter.

“The people of Northampton County have spoken,” said Commissioner Virginia Spruill (D-2nd).

Spruill motioned to accept option number one (no alcohol permitted) operational plan. Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene (D-5th) seconded the motion.

The motion passed without objection.