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Watertown mayor’s alcohol veto upheld

Jared Felkins • Aug 23, 2017 at 8:41 PM

Any chance someone would be able to grab a drink on the Watertown square was significantly diminished Wednesday evening. 

The Watertown City Council voted 4-3 to uphold Mayor Mike Jennings’ veto on a council vote to remove the phrase, “any public library,” from a list of places such as churches, community centers, hospitals, funeral parlors, public recreation areas and schools within 250 feet where alcohol would be allowed to be sold. Aldermen Brandy Holcomb, Tony Lea and Kristie Cantrell joined Jennings to uphold the veto.  

Jennings made good on his promise to “give it some thought” and vetoed the ordinance change July 25. The Watertown Public Library is at the center of the square. On July 18, the council originally approved the change on a 4-3 vote with Jennings, Cantrell and Holcomb voting against the measure. 

Alderman Katie Smith, who also owns Nona Lisa Pizzeria, made the motion to override the mayor’s veto Wednesday, and Alderman Tom Nix seconded it. 

“I really want to be clear that I would hate to push business off the square and into strip-mall development,” Smith said. “I would like to propose that we remove the library in the list of exclusions.”

Alderman Brandon Howard said he was torn on the issue. 

“When it comes to the library, I have mixed emotions about it,” Howard said. “I’ve been vice-mayor for 14 of the 16 years I’ve been here. Most of the time I have stood with my mayor on things. I’m torn over it. I don’t know if it will make a difference or not.”

Jennings told the council members any vote to override his veto wouldn’t be taken personally. He also clarified what state law said on the issue of a mayor voting on whether to override his or her own veto. 

“If you vote to oppose everything I say, it’s not going to hurt my feelings,” Jennings said. “I’m going to vote the way I feel. 

“Whatever happens tonight, if the veto is overridden, that will be the law of the city. If it is defeated, that will be the law of the city. But if the state comes in and says you can’t do that, we have to live with that.”

Smith said there was a chance, even if the veto was defeated, state officials could deem it impermissible. But, she said, it’s possible special events organizers could apply for an exclusion permit that would allow alcohol to be sold on the square. 

The council also delayed discussion and a vote on a proposed beer application. Jennings said the application was adapted from Lebanon’s document. 

In other business, the council passed the city’s budget for the upcoming year on first reading. The city’s property tax rate of .8822 cents didn’t change. 

Jennings noted a few more significant changes to the budget, including a 25-cent raise for all city employees and small increases for police and fire. He said all police vehicles were recently paid off, and he intends to buy new vehicles for the department next year. 

Jennings also said revenues were “fairly conservative” when estimated. He believed $75,000 in sewer capital outlay would be paid off soon, which would free up some revenue in the water and sewer department. He said it was, by far, the tightest budget the city had.

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