Opposing groups in Tyler’s alcohol initiative are sharpening their knives for what is expected to be a long campaign to decide whether Tyler becomes “wet.”
The Tyler City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to place local option beverage proposals on Nov. 6 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 June 21 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. Liquor sales are not included in the petitions.
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, began checking the city’s verified list Monday evening, and members said the group has already identified ineligible signatures on the approved list. Legal action to stop the election might be taken, group members said.
At a news conference before the 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.
He said the group also had 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.
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.
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.
Horton called the city’s actions during the process contradictory.
“They failed to follow state laws regarding the public information request and yet they followed the letter of the law to put it on the ballot,” he said. “It’s perplexing to me.”
Landers, in a previous interview, said the state allows additional time for agencies and municipalities to produce requested information if the request creates an undue burden.
He said the first priority was the verification of signatures within 30 days and that the request represented an additional burden.
Bob Westbrook, a Tyler businessman and chairman of Buy Local First, said the opposition is attempting to “create the perception of doubt” within the process. He said the group understood that “overzealous” residents would sign the petitions. It happens in every petition drive, he said. More signatures were gathered than needed to compensate for ineligible signees, Westbrook said.
Westbrook said he had “no concerns at all” that Stand Strong for Tyler would 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 (in November).”
Councilman Martin Heines questioned Landers about the verification process before the council’s vote and was assured the state’s requirement for the local option election was met by petitioners.
Heines said state law required a vote be taken, and members’ votes do not indicate support for the election but rather represent action to follow statute. He said there will be an “extraordinary amount of discussion” leading up to Election Day, and he hopes both sides run respectful campaigns.
Stand Strong for Tyler or any other group has “the full right and full due process to challenge the certified signatures,” he said. “I will be very open if they come back with information contrary to what the city staff and legal counsel certified.”
The Smith County Commissioners Court will consider a resolution to call an election in Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 on July 31.