Friday, April 13, 2007


I couldn't believe this.


What in the world happened the other night at the Toccoa City Commission? We're still scratching our heads.

In case you haven't heard, Toccoa commissioners voted 3-1 last week to change the city's rules on who could and could not sell alcohol within the city limits. Commissioner Ferrell Morgan's amendment requires, quote, "all holders of ABC licenses, both the store owner and manager, to be U.S. citizens." This means that if you're from another country, and you aren't a naturalized American citizen, you can't sell beer in Toccoa, even if you're living here legally.

Several things about Commissioner Morgan's amendment were puzzling. It wasn't on the agenda, so no one could have spoken against it if they'd wanted to. Commissioner Morgan offered it during the reports portion of the meeting, which isn't the usual time for such motions to be offered. Commissioner Billy Chism clearly hadn't heard a thing about it before the meeting, and said the commission should run it by the city attorney before taking any action. Morgan replied that he'd already checked into it, and the rest of the commission seemed satisfied to leave it at that. Ultimately, Morgan cut off debate and called the question, and the final vote was 3-1. Chism cast the only "no" vote.

This is a case where the "why" of a decision is clearly more important than the "what." Morgan acknowledged that he knew of no problems with regard to legal aliens selling alcohol in the city, and offered the motion as a sort of pre-emptive strike against such problems.

There may be a very good argument for restricting ABC licenses to United States citizens only. If such an argument exists, no one made it last Monday. Why not?

As it was, it looked like Billy Chism had been excluded from a debate that had already occurred somewhere else, somewhere out of the public's earshot. As it was, it had all the earmarks of a deal brokered beforehand; Commissioner Pavliscsak certainly seemed to be on the same page as Commissioner Morgan, and neither of the other commissioners said anything before the votes were counted.

We don't want to believe that our city commissioners are having substantive policy debates outside of meetings. If they did have such debates, and we could have heard them, maybe we'd all understand why they voted they way they did. In the absence of such a debate, every city resident has reason to be skeptical.

We don't want to believe that any of our commissioners are being used by local business owners in a move to drive out competitors who don't happen to be from this country.

We don't want to believe that this was simply a bit of anti-immigrant prejudice enshrined in law.

We don't want to believe any of these things. We hate to speculate. But a vacuum of information is just like any other vacuum: Things will rush to fill it. By creating this particular information vacuum, the city commission has invited speculation, by us and by every other Toccoa resident.