Candidate fights Alpharetta law blocking elected officials from holding an alcohol license

Restaurant owner Brian Will is running for Alpharetta City Council. A city ordinance reads that elected officials can't hold an alcoholic beverage license. Courtesy Brian Will
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Restaurant owner Brian Will is running for Alpharetta City Council. A city ordinance reads that elected officials can't hold an alcoholic beverage license. Courtesy Brian Will

An Alpharetta law that states elected officials can’t hold alcoholic beverage licenses is causing a stir in City Council and has drawn the ire of a candidate for office who operates nine restaurants.

Brian Will said after submitting candidate paperwork to run for City Council he was notified by the code enforcement department of a qualification problem. Will’s restaurants, three of which are located in Alpharetta, serve alcohol.

“It was quite surprising,” Will said, of learning of Alpharetta’s law. “It really isn’t about me. It’s about disqualifying an entire group people at restaurants, hotels, markets ... any establishment that serves alcohol.”

An Alpharetta ordinance reads that if you hold an alcoholic beverage license, or intend to, you are not eligible to be elected to a city office. During a June 21 City Council meeting, city attorney Sam Thomas encouraged Council members to amend the ordinance. The law was drafted in 1986, Thomas said, and conflicts with the city charter, which has no criteria prohibiting elected officials from having alcoholic beverage licenses.

In addition to elected officials, the ordinance in section 4-9e in the Alpharetta municipal code, also says city employees, appointed officials and their spouses can’t obtain an alcoholic beverage license. Thomas’ suggested tweak in the law only addressed elected officials and candidates for office.

Council members were divided on the law change during a first reading and it was not approved to go forward for a final vote at the June 28 meeting.

Councilman Ben Burnett left the chambers for the entire discussion and vote to avoid any conflict of interest, he said. Will is running for Burnett’s seat in Post 2, but Burnett has said he is not running for reelection.

Some council members who voted in opposition complained that they weren’t given enough time beforehand to research the issue. Before his opposing vote, Councilman Jason Binder said the ordinance change didn’t go far enough to include employees and their spouses.

Councilman Donald Mitchell voted against the update to the law but added that he and Thomas agreed prior to the meeting that the problem is a potential lawsuit for the city.

Thomas, the city attorney, did not return calls or an email from The Atlanta Journal Constitution on whether there’s a continued effort to change the ordinance.

Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard told the AJC that the city charter, which has no criteria for officials holding an alcoholic beverage license, supersedes the city ordinance.

Will said he is moving ahead with his run for City Council. The candidate owns Cantina Loca, Central City Tavern and Tavern House in Alpharetta.

“We are running,” he said. “Our position is the ordinance is unlawful and unenforceable. We will deal with issues as they come up.”