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News Sylva’s ABC approval shifts to county manager

Sheriff Jimmy AsheSheriff’s recommendations not heeded by officials.

During a June 4 budget work session for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, board members voted to revoke Sheriff Jimmy Ashe’s ability to provide the state ABC board with the local recommendation regarding suitability for businesses to sell alcohol. In a 3-2 vote, Commission Chairman Jack Debnam and Commissioners Doug Cody and Charles Elders voted in favor of releasing the Sheriff of the duty, and Commissioners Mark Jones and Joe Cowan voted against the measure.

On May 8, voters in Jackson County overwhelming voted in support of a referendum permitting countywide alcohol sales in unincorporated areas. County officials had to appoint a local designee to approve or deny suitability on behalf of the local government for applicants seeking alcohol permits. Because Ashe already had the responsibility of being the designee for special events in the county, commissioners delegated the responsibility of reviewing applications for countywide sales as well.

Ultimately, the final decision regarding issuing a permit to sell alcohol, which is typically given for a threemonth period, is left up to the ABC commission, the commission often relies on the local recommendation while reviewing applicants.

Following Ashe's appointment, several applicants were deemed as not having a suitable location to sell alcohol, based on Ashe's opinion. The state ABC commission took Ashe's opinion under consideration, but issued several permits despite Ashe deeming them unsuitable.

County commissioners also voted to designate County Manager Chuck Wooten to assume Ashe's responsibility of reviewing alcohol permit applications and requested that the State Bureau of Investigation provided commissioners with a code for the Emergency Management Department to utilize in order to gain access to the suitability information contained in criminal databases.

According to Wooten, he has been attempting to contact the state ABC commissioner to determine if substitute forms can be submitted in place of forms previously submitted by Sheriff Ashe. If it is permissable to submit a substitute form, Wooten plans to review all applications that have been submitted to the county since the May 8 vote. “I’m trying to make contact with the N.C. ABC Commissioner to understand if we can submit a substitute form,” explained Wooten. “We have also submitted a resolution to the SBI/DCI for permission to obtain criminal history information of all persons applying for ABC permits to use in determining suitability of a person for an ABC permit.”

To date, 22 applications have been processed by the Sheriff's Department, and there are currently no outstanding applications for establishments seeking alcohol permits.

Wooten believes that countywide alcohol sales can have a positive economic effect on Jackson County both now, and in the long-term. “The short term impact will be possible increased sales tax; however, long term, we hope to see increased commercial development in areas that have heretofore not had the ability to serve and sell alcohol,” explained Wooten.

Wooten plans to abide by the standards listed in the ABC form 001 in determining if a location is suitable for the sale of alcohol, which first asks of the designated local government official, 1) Do you approve of the applicant and 2) Do you approve of the location? The factors listed on the form that can be considered by the Commission while determining the suitability of approval include, reputation, character and criminal record of applicant, number of places already holding ABC permits within the neighborhood, parking facilities and traffic conditions in the neighborhood, kinds of businesses already in existence, whether the establishment is located within 50 feet of a church or public school or church school, zoning laws, or any other evidence that would tend to show whether the applicant would comply with the ABC laws and whether the operation of business at the proposed location would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

According to the form, “Pursuant to N.C. G.S. 18B-901 (b), to be considered by the ABC Commission, the objections shall state the facts upon which it is based. If you have indicated disapproval by answering “No” to either 1 or 2, please explain your reason(s) based on fact, record, law or reputation in the space provided below. Use extra sheets if additional space is required and attach all records and/or documents used to arrive at your decision. The mere indication of ‘No’ without an explanation is an insufficient basis for rejection and cannot be considered by the commission.”

One of the businesses deemed unsuitable by Ashe was the Catamount Travel Center in Cullowhee. On form 001, which Ashe submitted to the state ABC commission, Ashe said the business: Was located within 50 feet of an educational institution (WCU); the Cullowhee Fire Department’s emergency travel could be impeded by traffic; the center is near and around the main intersection of a university which “makes it more convenient and a stronger probability of more alcohol related vehicle accidents”; that the 10,000 student university had already experienced an increase in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents, underage drinking, alcohol poisoning, alcohol related sex offense, and deaths; and that the center is within walking distance of the school.

Despite recommending that the Travel Center should not be permitted to sell alcohol, Ashe declared location suitability to the Package Store beside the Cullowhee Post Office, owned by Roger Clark. The Package store is about 200 feet to the left of the travel center, but Ashe didn’t cite any of the accident or alcohol-related factors which he noted on the Travel Center’s form.

The state ABC Commission approved the Catamount Travel Centers in Whittier and Cullowhee despite Ashe's deeming it unsuitable.

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