Snellville to fight ruling on Sunday alcohol sales

At a Tuesday news conference at City Hall, Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said city leaders also will pursue a stay of the judge's ruling that voids licenses already issued. If successful, the stay will allow seven restaurants to serve beer and wine again.

"Over the past few weeks, our restaurants have seen as much as a 65-percent increase in their overall sales on Sunday," Oberholtzer said. "We cannot ignore this proof of the economic impact this extra day has had on our city."

Last week, Magistrate Judge Mark A. Lewis overturned the City Council's Dec. 14 decision to approve Sunday sales by council vote, rather than referendum, and invalidated the licenses already handed out.

The city ran afoul of a state provision that requires a referendum for Sunday alcohol sales and "disenfranchised voters", the judge said.

"I take umbrage with that term, that we ‘disenfranchised voters,'" Oberholtzer said, pointing out the city held a referendum on alcohol sales in 2004. Critics, however, said that referendum didn't apply to Sunday sales specifically.

Councilwoman Kelly Kautz disagreed with the city's decision to appeal. "All other cities in Gwinnett County have held a referendum on this issue; why should Snellville be any different?" Kautz said in a statement.

Snellville's decision is "a waste of the people's money. They're throwing good money after bad," said Rick Stepp, an attorney who represents eight plaintiffs suing the city. 

Oberholtzer estimated an appeal will cost $20,000.

Snellville leaders should give in and conduct a referendum, Grayson Mayor Jim Hinkle said. July is the  earliest a referendum can be held.

"The judge was correct," said Hinkle, who's also a Gwinnett magistrate. "[Snellville's] wasting more time."

Kurt Schulz, a 35-year Snellville resident, found encouragement in the city's decision to fight.

"There's a lot more out there to consider," Schulz said. "We're not finished."

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