The Tyler City Council voted unanimously this morning to place local option beverage proposals on November ballots.
The council voted after the city clerk certified more than 9,000 eligible signatures. The proposal required 7,895 signatures.
“Buy Local First,” the political action committee that initiated the petition drive, filed more than 19,000 petitions with the city clerk and county election administrator. The petitions were for the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption in Tyler and Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 and extended mixed-beverage sales in those jurisdictions.
Purchasing for off-premise consumption means beer and wine can be sold from store shelves inside the jurisdictions for customers to take home.
“Stand Strong for Tyler,” an opposition group, is checking the city’s verified list and members said the group has already identified ineligible signatures on the approved list.
At a press conference before the city council meeting, Stand Strong for Tyler attorney Norman Ladd said the group had not been given enough time to comb petitions for irregularities because the city failed to fully comply with a public information request.
The group has not filed a complaint with the state regarding the information request.
Ladd addressed council members before the vote and asked that they postpone the vote until Aug. 8 because the group found more than a dozen names it believes should have been disqualified by the city within the first 28 pages of more than 1,700 petition pages. Irregularities include, duplicate signatures, signatures from voters who registered after the petition drive began, and signatures of deceased people.
He said the group had also reached more than 300 verified signees by phone who said they had not signed the petition.
“We have cause for concern and we want to make sure we have time to verify the signatures are actual signatures of qualified voters,” he said.
City attorney Gary Landers advised the council that state law requires the council deny or order the election “at its next regular session occurring 30 days on or after the petition was filed.” Petitions were filed June 21.
Under the same state law that governs local option alcohol election, the deadline to call an election is “no later than the 78th day before the election,” which Norman said should be Aug. 20.
After the vote, Ladd said Stand Strong for Tyler will continue its verification process and is prepared to file an injunction to stop the election if evidence supports action.
Billy Horton, a consultant for the group, said the company that gathered signatures has a history of providing invalid signatures.
“Why (the city) would rush the process when there is evidence of fraud makes no sense,” he said.
For a signature to be valid it must be accompanied by the signer’s printed name, date of birth, address, and date signed. The signature is the only information that must be written by the registered voter. Courts have waived requirements including full address and date of birth as being “unconstitutionally prohibitive,” according to the law.
Bob Westbrook, a Tyler businessman and chairman of Buy Local First, said the opposition is attempting to “create the perception of doubt” on the process. He said the group understood that “overzealous” residents would sign the petitions. More signatures were gathered than needed to compensate for ineligible signees, he said.
Westbrook said he had “no concerns at all” that the group would be able to find enough ineligible signatures to recall the election.
“The city did its due diligence. I feel confident in that,” he said. “Now (Tyler) voters will have the opportunity to vote for a choice.”
Landers said the city will welcome any challenge to the election.
The Smith County Commissioners Court will consider a resolution to call an election in Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 on July 31.