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‘It’s about safety’

Alcohol opponents say it’s not worth the risk

Churches, such as First Assembly of God, have been leading the fight against legalizing alcohol sales in Hartselle. The vote is set for Nov. 2

Safety. It’s the lynchpin word for the committee that’s battling to keep legalized alcohol sales out of Hartselle.
First formed in 2002, Families for a Safe Hartselle is hoping to continue the success it had during that referendum, when voters overwhelmingly rejected alcohol sales. Committee members said while some of the names and faces of those involved in the issue have changed, the problems alcohol brings remains the same.
“Safety is the issue,” committee leader Jeff Johnson said. “It’s a proven fact that criminal violence will increase based on the availability of alcohol. It’s short-sighted to say the potential for increased criminal activity isn’t a factor.”
Johnson, a Hartselle native, points to a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. The study looks at neighborhoods in New Jersey and urban and rural California, including 74 cities in Los Angeles County, and concludes the rate of violent crime is higher in areas of dense alcohol sales. The more alcohol available, the more incidents of violence crimes, such as assault, rape and burglaries, are reported, according to the study. The age of those involved in the crimes is also lower, researchers said.
Johnson also cited a similar study by the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences that again linked the number of alcohol outlets with an increase in criminal activity.
More crime means hiring additional public safety personnel, negating any revenue alcohol sales might bring to the city’s coffers. Proponents of alcohol sales predict it will bring in some $500,000 a year.
Johnson said the city does need additional economic development but said alcohol sales won’t achieve the desired goals.
“Safe progress is found shopping and economic development that are a net win for the city,” he said. “You don’t have to beef up the police department to do those things. We’re happy not to have to deal with the problems associated with legalized alcohol. We’re comfortable with living in Hartselle the way it is.”
The moral issue can’t be ignored, either, he said.
“Any economic development that prays on the backs of those that are the most susceptible is a moral issue.”

Former mayors speak out
Johnson’s sentiments are echoed by former Hartselle mayors Samie Wiley and Clif Knight. Wiley was mayor from 1992-96 and Knight from 2000-04. Knight is now a reporter at the Hartselle Enquirer.
Wiley said he feels alcohol sales wouldn’t bring economic development to the city. Instead, he’d like to city current leaders doing what they can to increase growth.
“When I was mayor, I worked hard to get people to shop in Hartselle, motivate them to spend their money here. Look at our city now. The council and the mayor are not motivating people to spend money here,” he said. “Look at the city of Decatur. Are they better off because of alcohol sales?”
Wiley said he felt Mayor Dwight Tankersley and others should speak out on the issue.
But that’s not his role, according to Tankersley.
“My job as mayor is to provide accurate information and then let the people decide,” he said.
Knight, who was mayor during the 2002 failed push to legalize alcohol sales, said he feels such a change would tear the fabric of the city irreparably.
“I find it hard to believe that our strong Christian heritage, high moral values and clean family lifestyle will not be adversely affected by giving alcoholic beverages a stamp of public approval and making them available at every street corner,” he said. “I’m proud that Hartselle has always taken the high road when it comes to maintaining a clean, safe, wholesome environment for its citizens. This is something that has received national attention. In 1993, our community was recognized as one of the “100 Best Small Towns in America. “The author of a book by that name wrote that Hartselle was chosen because  “…it is a community where traditional values of family, community, faith, hard work and patriotism remain strong.”
Using statistics from the Hartselle Police Department, Knight said there have been 107 crimes reported since June. Of those crimes, 46 involved alcohol under the categories of driving while intoxicated, public intoxication and illegal possession of alcoholic beverages.  Another 24 were related to illegal drugs.
“ This fact begs the question: “Is it going to be better, the same or worse by making the sale of alcohol legal in Hartselle,” Knight said.

Dealing with the effects of alcohol
After successfully defeating legalized alcohol sales in 2002, leaders for the Committee for a Safe Hartselle pledged to be active local issues. While they haven’t been active in an organized form, Johnson said committee members have remained involved.
“People who are our supporters are the ones who are out in the community,” he said.
“They are the ministers and those involved in city politics. Those aren’t the things that are on billboards, but we’ve stayed involved. The preachers and the churches, those are the ones that are out there dealing with the alcohol violence daily.”