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THE CITY OF CLINTON, MISSISSIPPI, DICKEY KING, LAMAR GOFF AND TOM BOX v. C. E. SMITH

AUGUST 06, 1986

THE CITY OF CLINTON, MISSISSIPPI, DICKEY KING, LAMAR GOFF AND TOM BOX
v.
C. E. SMITH



BEFORE PATTERSON, C.J.; HAWKINS AND ROBERTSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

At issue today is whether the people of the City of Clinton, Mississippi, have taken steps legally adequate to ban the sale of beer in their community. In a June 1985 referendum election, 52.5 percent of those casting ballots voted, "No" . The Circuit Court of Hinds County subsequently voided the election by reason of "irregularities" found to have existed in "the calling for a beer sales referendum. . . and in the subsequent voting upon that issue" . In substantial part, we affirm.

 II.

 The controversy surrounding the sale of beer in the City of Clinton, Mississippi has raged for some time. It appears to have been augmented by a recent annexation *fn1 which brought within the City's jurisdiction a number of business establishments which theretofore had offered canned and bottled beer for sale under relatively lenient restrictions.

 The sale of beer was a regular subject of discussion between the Clinton's Mayor and Board of Aldermen for the latter part of 1984. An ad hoc committee studied the controversy. Its work appears to have given impetus to efforts to call a citywide referendum on the issue. A moratorium was approved by the Mayor and Board regarding enforcement of the old

 On January 15, 1985, Rev. Don Edwards presented to the Mayor and Board petitions calling for a referendum on the sale of beer and asking an election regarding the matter. The petitions purportedly contained the signatures of more than two thousand citizens of Clinton. State law requires 20 percent of a municipality's registered voters before a beer referendum may be called. Miss. Code Ann. 67-3-9 (1972).

 In due course, the city clerk ascertained that 1,512 of the names on the petitions were those of registered voters. As Clinton then had 8,190 registered voters, the petitions were 126 names short of the statutorily required 20 percent. The clerk reported this fact to the Mayor and Board at its regular February 5, 1985 meeting.

 It was obviously known in advance that the petitions were short 126 names, for Rev. Edwards appeared at the February 5 meeting and urged that, before final action was taken by the Mayor and Board on the question of whether the petitions were sufficient to call an election, two additional steps be taken: First, that the petitioners be allowed to submit the names of additional registered voters and, second, that the voter registration roles for the City be purged to remove the names of persons who had died or moved away. After some discussion the Mayor and Board authorized the city attorney to request an opinion of the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi regarding its authority in each of these two areas.

 On February 19, 1985, the Attorney General responded to the first question:

 It is the opinion of this office that once

 the governing board rules that a petition for an election is insufficient, no supplemental signatures may be added to the original petition. . . . However, if the petition in question has not yet been adjudged insufficient by the governing board, municipal electors may add their names to said petition up to the time such adjudication is made.

 In response to the question regarding the purging of the voter registration roles, the Attorney General advised

 That a voter's name may be removed from the registration and poll books only by act of the Municipal Election Commission at one of their regular meetings on dates which are set by statute.

 Thereafter, at a regular board meeting held March 26, 1985, additional petitions containing some 270 names of persons purporting to be registered voters calling for the beer referendum in the City of Clinton were presented for inclusion in the petition. On April 2, 1985, Julia M. Harrison, city clerk, reported to the Mayor and Board that a combination of the purging of 30 names from the registration and poll books plus the addition of 120 registered voters to the petitions brought the number of registered voters signing the petition up to the requires 20 percent. The report of the city clerk included the following:

 That the number of registered voters within the City of Clinton, Mississippi, on January 15, 1985, totaled 8,190 and the number of registered voters within the City of Clinton, Mississippi, on March 26, 1985, totaled 8,160.

 NO. OF NAMES ON PETITIONS VALIDATED NAMES ------------------------- ---------------

 2025 1512 (Jan. 15, 1985) 208 120* (March 26, 1985)

 ---- ---- 2233 1632

 The total list was not validated - 120 additional names needed to call for a Referendum.

 The Mayor and Board thereupon entered their order directing

 the holding of an election to determine whether the sale and receipt, storage and transportation for the purpose of sale of beer of an alcoholic content of not more than four percent (4%) by weight within the City of Clinton should be permitted or prohibited.

 The special election was held June 4, 1985, and in due course thereafter the Elections Commissioners for the City of Clinton certified to the Mayor and Board the following results:

 FOR THE SALE OF BEER --------------- 2115 AGAINST THE SALE OF BEER ----------- 2337

 On June 18, 1985, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen met to receive the report of the Elections Commissioners and to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the sale of beer in accordance with the results of the referendum. Exceptors, including C. E. Smith, Appellee here, appeared and charged numerous illegalities in the referendum process, primarily relating to the adequacy of the petition calling the election. Exceptors urged that the City had been without authority to consider the additional names submitted March 26, 1985, and that, in any event, there were 52 names validated which should have been excluded for one of three reasons: The name was not the name of a registered voter in the City of Clinton, the names were signed to a piece of paper which contained no indication on its face that the persons signing it were calling for a referendum on the sale of beer in the City of Clinton, and/or that the names were printed instead of signed. Notwithstanding these exceptions, the Mayor and Board then approved an order prohibiting the sale of beer of an alcoholic content of not more than four percent (4%) by weight in the City of Clinton, Mississippi, effective July 18, 1985.

 On June 28, 1985, C. E. Smith filed with the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi, his bill of exceptions, thus timely perfecting his appeal. Costas v. Board of Supervisors of Lauderdale County, 196 Miss. 104, 125-30, 16 So.2d 378, 379-81 (1944). On June 16, 1985, the Circuit Court found that

 Irregularities exist in the calling for a beer sales referendum for the City of Clinton and in the subsequent voting upon that issue.

 The court thereupon voided the referendum election and the petition calling for same. The order directed the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Clinton to secure new

 petitions and to call a new referendum election within ninety (90) days.

 The City of Clinton has perfected the present appeal and originally sought reversal of the order of the Circuit Court and reinstatement of its order prohibiting the sale of beer in the City of Clinton.

 III.

 Our law is not and must never be regarded as an end in and of itself but as a means to positive societal ends. One of those ends is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting values, beliefs, fears and self-interests of a pluralistic people. We seek to structure and administer our law that we be enabled better to live and let live. This being so, rather than deliver an arid legal opinion, we regard it as appropriate that we have in mind that ambiguous slice of life implicated in today's controversy. *fn2

 This case is but the latest in our people's seemingly unending struggle over the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Few issues have so tested our fidelity to law, nor presented greater tensions within our law's capacity to accommodate the will of the majority with respect for the privacy, integrity and sensibilities of the individual. We have expended untold quantities of time, energy, oratory and money battling the bottle, *fn3 and as this case makes clear the end is not in sight. The lessons of three thousand years of the history of Western civilization are at least two: (1) that strong drink will be consumed by our people in varying quantities regardless of what the law may provide and (2) that such ...


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