Stephens County Commissioners decide to suspend the beer and wine licenses of three stores accused of selling alcohol to a minor.
Hearings for the three stores took place at Tuesday’s Stephens County Commission meeting.
According to the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, earlier this month an undercover deputy under the age of 21 entered Buck’s Superette, or the old Buck’s store, on Big A Road, the Royal Foods at the intersection of Highway 106 and the By-pass, and the Shell Mart at the Jeanette Jamieson Intersection, and purchased alcohol. After the sale, clerks at all three stores were cited.
At their hearings, none of the stores denied that the sales occurred.
Stephens County Attorney Brian Ranck told the commission that the minimum punishment for a first offense was a 30-day suspension of the store’s beer and wine license. County officials said all three of these were first offenses under the ordinance.
Stephens County Commission Chairman Stanley London said that while a 30-day license suspension is severe, the situation could be worse.
“If you were to lose your license for 30 days, that is a lot less than if we had a serious accident from an underage person buying,” said London. “That is what we set these rules and regulations for.”
Under the county ordinance, the commission could have taken the matter under advisement and issued a ruling up to three days following the hearings. However, commissioners made a decision during Tuesday’s meeting.
Stephens County Commissioner Dean Scarborough said he feels that the 30-day beer and wine license suspension is appropriate in all three cases.
“In hearing the comments made by the three businesses involved, the actual penalties are valid and working because there will be loss of revenue and loss of business,” said Scarborough, who made the motion for a 30-day suspension.
However, Stephens County Commissioner Debbie Whitlock said she has issues with the ordinance and the way punishments are handed out.
“I would not want anybody selling to my underage grandchildren or children and I do view it as a serious offense,” said Whitlock. “On the other hand, when you have people that have been in business for years here who have never had a violation, we have an ordinance (where) we only have discretion after 30 days and in these economic times, 30 days could mean shutting down another business in Stephens County.”
Whitlock said she would like to see the commission have the ability to issue a suspension of less than 30 days that would still be punitive.
She also said that in two of the cases, the owners thought they were doing the best they could and that their clerks, who were the ones to allegedly sell the alcohol, had been doing what they were supposed to be doing.
Finally, Whitlock said she has concerns about taking this action before the cases are handled in a court of law and guilt is determined. According to Sheriff Randy Shirley, the clerks are scheduled for Stephens County State Court for arraignment on the alleged violations in April.
County commissioners voted 4-1 to implement the 30-day suspension, with Whitlock voting against the motion.
Ranck said that the 30-day beer and wine suspensions approved by the commission will take effect today.