MATTER OF OPINION: Starting something and not finishing it

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By Robin Bass

The word ‘disappointed’ does not even begin to describe how I felt, but that was the adjective that I used.

Maybe the word ‘frustrated’ provides a better illustration of my reaction. Other words that pop to mind now are confused, discouraged and defeated.

Looking back, I have realized that the most accurate description of how I felt last Monday sitting before the Spencer County Economic Development Authority was nothing less than annoyed.

For several weeks now, the Spencer Magnet has been actively attempting to organize a public forum in the event that the alcohol sales issue is put to a vote. Our thoughts were that, like some of us in the office, there still may be several people in the community that are sitting on the fence. Since the Spencer Magnet is in the information business, we wanted to provide voters with facts before heading off to make a decision that could impact this county for years, if not forever.

First, the date of Thursday, October 8 was selected to provide coverage of the event prior to the scheduled referendum on October 20. Then, we secured free use of the middle school gym (thanks to Superintendent Chuck Adams) and selected a moderator to help ensure the evening would flow efficiently.

Now all that was left was securing a list of qualified panelists who could provide statistical and/or historical information about selling alcohol. As of this week, Spencer County Sheriff Steve Coulter and a representative from Kentucky State Police, Alcohol Beverage Control, Spencer County Ministerial Association and S.A.F.E. had all agreed to attend.

Naturally, we also extended an invitation to petition organizers and EDA since representatives from both entities had such a public role in the newspaper as the story unfolded.

Both declined.

Thinking that maybe they misunderstood the forum concept, I asked to speak at EDA’s board meeting last Monday and they graciously agreed. They even moved me to the top of their agenda. I reassured the directors that our intent for the forum was to present facts, not point fingers.

As supporters of economic development in the county, the forum would give EDA the chance to tell the community about potential jobs, increased tax revenue and business expansion if alcohol sales were permitted. Surely, this could be accomplished in a matter-of-fact way without the confusion of taking a personal stance either for or against alcohol sales.

But EDA President Dennis Eisenback said they were not interested. Their organization was asked to collect data on the impact of alcohol sales by petition organizers. Now, with that task accomplished, EDA would have essentially no other responsibility in the issue.

With EDA Director B.J. Smith in attendance at the meeting, I took the opportunity to ask if he would reconsider joining the forum as a panelist – not as a representative of  EDA, but in his role as spokesperson for the petition effort.  This could be his, or another organizer’s, chance to pitch why they started the signature drive and why they believed it will be good for the county.

Smith said that while he does plan to vote for alcohol sales, the purpose of the petition was to give others a chance to have their say. Now that the election appears to be forthcoming, he and other petition organizers have nothing more to say.

The special-election wheels have been set into motion largely because of these two entities, but neither seem willing to stand up publicly for their actions. Recoiling might be a better word to describe what is going on.

I find that annoying. If it was a good enough idea to start a petition and it was a good enough idea to offer support in the form of gathering data, then it ought to be a good enough idea to present in a public forum before undecided voters.

I also find their desire to distance themselves from the issue annoying because of the estimated $20,000 price tag attached to holding the referendum. No one asked every resident in Spencer County if they wanted to spend tax money on a wet/dry vote. But everyone is going to pay for it.

Despite the amount it will take to hold a special election, the issue is really not about money. It’s the principal of starting something and not having the nerve to finish it – whatever the cost could be monetarily or politically.

By the way, the Spencer Magnet plans to continue with the public forum. If you are on the fence and looking for information about the potential effects of alcohol sales in the county, we hope to see you at the middle school October 8.