Chancellor signs liquor order; referendum date to be set this week; a Tuesday in march likely

State says businesses with liquor licenses can keep on pouring
Jan. 16, 2013 @ 09:51 AM

Chancellor Telford Forgety signed and entered into the record his written order for a new Pigeon Forge liquor by the drink referendum Tuesday, starting the clock on a 45-to-60-day window for a new election. His order did not address existing license holders.

Forgety ruled from the bench Thursday that the Nov. 6 election was flawed due to errors by poll workers that allowed 289 people to vote on the referendum when they should not have.

While Forgety announced his decision Thursday after hearing arguments on the case, he did not sign the formal order until Tuesday. That allows the election commission to set a new date for the referendum, and the panel is expected to do so at a special called meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Keith Bell, interim director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said Tuesday his office would not take action against the 11 Pigeon Forge establishments that obtained licenses to sell liquor by the drink before Forgety’s ruling. He said those restaurants “shall remain licensed until ordered otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

The statement, faxed by Bell’s office, did not address what action might be taken if voters reject the referendum in the new election. He had previously said they would wait to review the order once it was entered into the record, and that they would contact the state attorney general’s office if Forgety did not address the issue. The statement doesn’t note whether they consulted the attorney general’s office.

Administrator of Elections Ronee Flynn said the new election would likely be on a Tuesday, meaning March 5 or March 12.

Forging Ahead, the group formed to campaign in favor of the referendum, announced a March 12 date on its web page, forging-ahead.org, but Chairman Ken Maples said Tuesday that was based on its best guess of when it will take place.

“(Forging Ahead) is simply trying to be as proactive as possible on the March 12 date since we have such a short time frame to work with,” he said. “We have not released this information to the public and will not until the (election commission) sets the date. However, we know that based on the order being filed today that the 45- to 60-day period will provide that the re-vote will most likely be the 5th or 12th of March.”

Flynn said the deadline for registration will be 30 days ahead of the election date, and early voting will begin 20 days ahead of the election and end five days before it, as usual. Early voting will likely be held at the Election Commission office on Dolly Parton Parkway, she said, but that will be decided by the commission at the Thursday meeting.

She said election workers would be reviewing county records to determine whether property owners who registered ahead of the last election still own the same property. Opponents of the referendum have questioned whether interest in some properties was transferred to individuals with the intent of letting them vote, and then transferred back to the original owners.

While the commission typically reviews the property owners every two years — which would mean they review it between normal city elections — Flynn said they would review them again ahead of this election.

“We’ll check to see at the register of deed’s office and comptroller’s office,” she said.

In a statement released by Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, chairman Jess Davis said the organization would be looking out for fraud and voter issues in the new election. “Our group does not wish to make any further statements at this time because of certain steps that we are in the process of taking in order to better ensure fair and honest elections and to pursue fraudulent perpetrators,” Davis said in the statement.

However, he agreed to an interview with The Mountain Press and said that the statement was intended to show they plan to closely monitor the upcoming election.

CCCPF agreed to drop claims of fraud about the Nov. 6 election as part of a deal that saw the election commission acknowledge its staff allowed improper votes. He said they were still concerned about some issues they discovered as they researched the election, but agreed to drop the fraud claims because the agreement paved the way for a new election without a trial.

He praised election workers who acknowledged they made errors, including some who said they were told by supervisors to let everyone vote, regardless of where they lived. “They knowingly put themselves in jeopardy by telling the truth in their depositions,” he said, later adding, “When just a few people take a stand like they did, good things for the public can happen.

“We need more people like them because it is obvious that there are major problems in our Pigeon Forge City government and County Election Commission.”

Forging Ahead also issued a statement about the upcoming election, noting Forgety had signed the order.

“Today’s order by Chancellor Forgety means that Pigeon Forge voters will need to re-vote in order to protect the additional education funding they voted for last November,” Maples said in the statement. “While we’re disappointed that we have to re-vote, we’re confident the Pigeon Forge voters will make their vote count again in order to support new growth and protect new revenues that are already coming into Pigeon Forge schools and our city.”

jfarrell@themountainpress.com