Citing flaws in the process, the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen may vote to deny all the existing certificate of compliance applications for a new liquor store in Tullahoma at its meeting later tonight.

According to a memo from City Administrator Jennifer Moody, "a number of citizens" have reported flaws in the way the city went about presenting the certificate applications to the board since Monday, Sept. 13, when the first three applications came before the board. Those critiques include flaws in the process of either accessing application materials or being able to submit applications, according to Moody's memo. Additionally, the memo states, the city failed to provide a public announcement that the change in population would create an opportunity for only one additional license to be issued.

"In light of the concerns raised regarding equitable treatment and transparency and the lack of any guidance as to the method of selecting between multiple eligible applicants within the municipal code, the Board is recommended to acknowledge that there was a flawed process and to deny all current applicants on that basis," the memo reads. "Then, as soon as practical, establish a fair and transparent process and, in a timely manner, begin accepting applications in accordance with the process adopted by the Board."

The city's municipal code limits how many retail licenses may be granted for a liquor store in the city limits to one per every 4,000 residents.

Prior to 2020, the city had just over 18,000 residents, limiting the number of liquor stores to just four. Census 2020 figures put the official resident count at 20,393, meaning one more liquor store could open up in the city limits. The city began accepting applications for the new retail license Aug. 30, according to the memo.

There are currently four applications for a certificate of compliance for a new liquor store waiting for a decision. Those applications belong to:

  • Jaie M. Damron--622 Wilson Ave. store;
  • Mahendra and Rita Patel--2200 N. Jackson St. store;
  • Bonny and Amiben Patel--2230 N. Jackson St. store and;
  • Jay Krishna K Patel--1102 S. Jefferson St. store.

The three applications that came before the board in September were Damron's, Mahendra and Rita Patel's and Bonny and Amiben Patel's.

Jaykrishna K. Patel spoke at the Oct. 11 city board meeting and claimed he also sought a certificate of compliance application in September, which is when the three other applicants filled out their applications.

In the Sept. 13 meeting agenda, only Damron's was included in the original agenda packet for the mayor and aldermen; the two Patels' applications were included as supplemental documents after the original agenda packet was created. Why Jaykrishna Patel's application was not included in the Sept. 13 meeting agenda was not immediately clear.

According to City Attorney Steve Worsham, it is the city's responsibility to determine which applicant will be the recipient of the certificate of compliance, as the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) does not recognize nor enforce the city's ordinance restricting the limit on the number of licenses issued. Further, Worsham said at a previous meeting, should the city approve all of the outstanding applications before it, the state would approve all four certificates, putting the city in violation of its own ordinance.

The board previously voted to direct staff to come up with a way to determine which of the original three applicants would be selected for the certificate, yielding a proposed drawing of names, which some aldermen called a "lottery." The city would have facilitated the drawing of a name by a neutral third party--not a board member nor a direct employee of the city government--at a public, open meeting that was adequately advertised.

That proposed lottery did not sit well with several aldermen, including Aldermen Daniel Berry, Jenna Amacher, Sernobia McGee and Rupa Blackwell. The drawing was originally slated to take place at the Oct. 11 meeting; however, once Jaykrishna Patel spoke during the public comment portion about his own difficulty applying for a certificate, board members instead voted to postpone the decision to the Oct. 25 meeting. The board also directed city staff to set a study session on the subject prior to the meeting.

Making matters more complicated is there is a ticking clock on the existing applications. Per state law, the board is required to take action, either to approve or deny, on the applications within 60 days, or else the applications will be automatically approved, putting the city in violation of the ordinance. Should the board vote to deny the applications, it essentially "resets" the clock on the issue, giving the board more time to come up with a transparent and equitable process for approving certificates of compliance for "retail package stores."

All four applicants will remain eligible to reapply for another certificate with 12 months at no additional cost to them once the new procedures are in place, per the memo.

How the board will vote is as yet unknown. The meeting is set for 5:30 this evening.

Managing Editor

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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