Anti-liquor side explains its strategy, leadership in new court filing

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 08:44 PM

Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge has outlined its efforts to defeat the 2012 liquor-by-the-drink referendum in documents filed in Sevier County Chancery Court.

The group filed a contest of the Nov. 6 election asking for the results to be tossed after finding about 300 votes it said came from people who couldn’t be accounted for as eligible voters. The Sevier County Election Commission filed a motion to dismiss, questioning whether the group had proper standing to file that complaint, and CCCPF filed the newest documents as part of its efforts to show it qualifies legally as an opponent of the measure.

The filings include an affidavit filed by local businessman Jess Davis, who is now one of the chairmen of the group, explaining that the organization placed ads in The Mountain Press as well as on local radio, made phone calls about the issue and paid for yard signs calling for people to vote against the referendum.

“Since its formation in March 2011 through the most recent election on Nov. 6, 2011, CCCPF has taken numerous steps to promote our belief and defeat the LBTD referendum,” Davis said in the affidavit.

The group was formed in 2011 to campaign against the same referendum when it appeared on the municipal election ballot that year.

The measure was defeated then, and ordinarily would have been ineligible for consideration on the November general election ballot because state law calls for a two-year period between votes on a referendum. However, the Pigeon Forge City Commission got state officials to pass a bill to waive that rule, allowing petitioners to get the referendum placed on the general election ballot in November.

In that election, voters appeared to approve the measure by a 1,232 to 1,132 vote. But complaints surfaced soon after the election that people who were eligible to vote were denied the opportunity, and that people who lived outside the city and didn’t own property there were allowed to vote on the referendum.

By the time the election commission was set to certify the election, one member of CCCPF said he had learned that, by his count, more than 300 votes came from people who didn’t appear to be eligible in the election.

State and local officials said that was not grounds to stop certification, but could be used as a reason to file a contest of election. CCCPF filed its complaint a few days after certification.

The new court filings confirm that CCCPF elected two new chairmen at the Nov. 8 meeting where it decided to file the contest.

One was Davis, who in the affidavit says, “I reside in Sevier County, Tennessee and own real property and operate several businesses in Pigeon Forge and therefore am registered to vote in Pigeon Forge.” Property owners can register to vote in the city even if they don’t live inside its boundaries, and voting records show Davis voted in the past election as a property owner.

The other was Charles Rhodes, the CCCPF member who found the apparent discrepancy in the total vote. Rhodes has said he does not live in Pigeon Forge but he works for a business located inside the city. He was not eligible to vote in the referendum.

Previously, a set of local church pastors had been listed as chairmen.

Attorneys for the two sides indicated Friday that are setting dates for depositions in the case; it appears unlikely that the trial will take place this month.

Under state law, the case should be heard within 50 days after the complaint was served on the election commission.

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com