Tribune-Courier General Manager
BENTON – Despite vows by those on both sides of the wet/dry issue in Marshall County to remain respectful of the other, the gloves appear to have come off.
Within hours of a traffic accident that left two Marshall County teenagers critically injured and a third person injured last Monday night, both sides of the wet/dry issue were blaming the other for trying to use the tragedy for political gain. Police say the driver of the vehicle who crossed the center line and hit a car full of college students smelled of alcohol and alcohol was found outside the wreckage of his vehicle.
Many on the dry side say this was an example of something we will see more of if the county votes to allow legalized alcohol sales on July 17.
But Ronecca Joseph, a spokesperson for Say No Now said she doesn’t want to see this issue become propaganda for either side.
“Everyone involved in this is hurting now. We just need to be praying for the families.”
Meanwhile, those who support alcohol sales say it would decrease the number of DUIs and have pointed to neighboring Trigg County as an example. In 2009 Trigg reported 110 DUI arrests. The next year when they went wet that number dropped to 85.
“We don’t know if this accident would have happened in a wet county,” said Sissy Wommack, spokesperson for Marshall 1st, the group heading up the effort to legalize alcohol in the county. “What we do know is that it did happen in a dry county.”
Wommack also said, “The county who sold the alcohol that may have caused this wreck got tax money from the sale. We, on the other hand, paid to clean up the mess with our law enforcement. Our sheriff needs more money in his budget now and we have to spend the time of our law enforcement when something like this happens and get no revenue for it.”
Another controversy surrounding the alcohol debate involves the destruction or theft of campaign signs. Sheriff Kevin Byars says his office has received numerous calls concerning stolen and defaced signage.
Wommack said she saw someone take down a “Vote Yes” sign on Saturday night and confronted him. She said members of her committee have filed a complaint with County Attorney Jeff Edwards.
Yet another divisive issue has members of Marshall 1st questioning whether or not Say No Now is properly registered with the Kentucky State Registry of Elections as a Political Issues Committee. State law mandates whenever three or more people form a group related to a political issue and spend more than $1000 they must register with the state.
But Benton attorney Marty Johnson who is providing legal advice to Say No Now said they view it differently.
“We have formed a non-profit corporation to raise funds to educate the public about the issue. We do not believe we are required to register.”
Johnson went on to say the group would comply with the state’s take on the law, however and plans to complete registration requirements by June 15.
“We have no desire to fight state government over a local option election,” said Johnson. “This is just not a fight we want to take part it and the fact is there is really no reason for us not to register.”
Finally, Marshall 1st members have received reports of “Say No” signs being distributed from the County Clerk’s office inside the Marshall County courthouse.
County Clerk Tim York acknowledged an employee of his office brought in signs to pass out to co-workers and that one member of the public left with one.
“This is not campaign headquarters,” he said. “A mistake was made and I did my best to correct it, by telling the employees it was inappropriate. I want to apologize to the public that it happened even one day. I’m doing my best to be a good public servant.”
Wommack said with voter registration underway in that office she believes it was inappropriate to have the signs in the building.