Published Sunday, November 13, 2011
The Newnan Times-Herald
Todd Baggarly is welcome to live in Senoia and run a popular business there, but if he continues to run a restaurant that serves alcohol he cannot serve on the city council.
The Tuesday election in Senoia ended with voters approving sales of package beer and wine on Sundays and re-electing the two incumbent councilmen, Bobby Graham and Maurice Grover. One of the options originally available to voters, however, was not on the ballot.
Baggarly, who owns and operates Founders Restaurant in a downtown building, had qualified to run for council. After he had paid his fees, started campaigning -- even purchased signs -- he learned that if he was elected, he would have to divest himself of interest in the restaurant, where alcohol is served.
Baggarly said he is "fine with it" -- referring to the result of the misunderstanding, which led to the restaurateur formally withdrawing from the race. He did express concern about the fact that five or six of his supporters cast early ballots for him before he withdrew.
"I feel like it's a true negative for the people who already voted," he said. "Their votes just got thrown away."
Mayor Robert Belisle said the city is taking steps to make sure no one else qualifies -- as Baggarly did -- without being notified of the rules about alcohol license holders. The ordinance "in no way prohibits" anyone who meets the criteria for service from running for a council post.
The 2006 ordinance does, however, require anyone who holds an alcohol license from the city to divest themselves of that license within 60 days if elected.
At the most recent city council meeting in Senoia's magistrate court chambers on Monday, Belisle apologized to Baggarly on behalf of himself and City Administrator Richard Ferry. "I personally feel bad for you, Todd, that I didn't catch it sooner, that Richard didn't catch it sooner," he said.
City Attorney Drew Whalen explained that holders of certain types of licenses -- alcohol, adult entertainment, taxis -- are often prevented from holding office in municipalities across the state. "You've got certain types of vocations which the city has a vital interest in regulating," he said.
Whalen explained "it's hard for the body that regulates these licenses" to do that job thoroughly if license holders sit on the council and have the power to hire and fire city staff.
He talked about a situation in one Georgia city where the mayor owned a building where alcohol was served and leased it to a council member who then hired a second council member to work there.
Baggarly said he understands "the premise and the thought behind it." Still, some Senoia residents feel the measure helps shut out people who own local businesses from serving on the council.
In Newnan and Grantville, one or more owners of local businesses almost always serve on the council. None of the current Senoia council members operate a retail business in Senoia.
Some Senoia business owners live in Fayette County, while others live in Coweta but outside the city limits.
Baggarly said people who own businesses often have a special interest in the health and progress of their cities. Entrepreneurs are "people who have a vital interest in the town," he stated.
He said shutting out people with ties to restaurants seems counterproductive as the town seeks to court those types of businesses. "We're pushing to become a thriving restaurant destination for everybody else," he said.
Joe Cannin, who organized a council candidate forum on behalf of the Senoia Tea Party Patriots, remarked briefly on Baggarly having to bow out of the race. "That was an unfortunate situation," he said.
"Todd -- being the gentleman that he is -- handled it quite well," Cannin said.
People "were interested in the city and running for council," Cannin said. "That's fantastic. Politics affects you every day. It's everyday issues that you're concerned about."
At the council meeting, Belisle did not rule out the possibility that the council might look at the restrictions on alcohol license holders in the future. "That's what I would hope," Baggarly said.