If Shane O’Donley, resident of northern Madison County, were to pick up a bottle of red wine on his way home and pour a glass for his wife, he would be considered breaking the law.
Until people enter the city limits of Richmond or Berea, the 40 percent remainder of Madison County is dry, allowing no alcohol sales in that area of the county.
Kentucky statute KRS 242.230 states: “No person in dry territory shall sell, barter, loan, give, procure for or furnish another, or keep or transport for sale, barter or loan, directly or indirectly, any alcoholic beverage.”
If a person is charged with violating this law, the first offense is a class B misdemeanor, the second offense is class A misdemeanor and a third offense is a class D felony, potentially facing a minimum of a year in prison.
“If someone wants to have a wedding out at a family farm, and they want to serve wine to their families and guests, they just gave alcohol to someone in a dry part of the county,” O’Donley said. “And according to the statute, that would be illegal. I’m addicted to fairness, and I think that it is unfair that that part of the county could be construed as criminal.”
Just a few weeks ago, O’Donley formally filed the ‘Make Madison County Wet’ petition in order to permit the sales of alcohol all through the county.
He said when he ran for a county magistrate in the general election last, he came across information that concerned him while doing research.
“I was unhappy with the direction of the county, and when I was doing research to be in that position, some things scared me. And one thing that scared me was the fiscal outlook for the county when CSEPP closes,” he said.
Currently Richmond houses 50 percent of the nation’s chemical warfare at the Blue Grass Army Depot and will begin its operation in 2019 to neutralize and destroy the chemical agents, such as mustard, sarin and VX gases, that they hold. The stockpile has a target year of being destroyed in 2023.
“That's going to leave a big fiscal hole, so me and a group of friends started a nonprofit and nonpartisan group with a goal trying to figure out ways to be able to get Madison County to its full potential, and thought what can we do as citizens,” he said. “We looked at strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats. One of the things that kept coming up was the inability to sell alcohol.”
O’Donley said that a lot of people think Madison County is wet because a lot of residents live in Richmond, or they go to a restaurant in Berea. However, 40 percent of the county remains unable to make alcohol sales.
He said alcohol sales within the county would encourage additional growth in hospitality, business and tourism. With Fayette County being so heavily populated, O’Donley explained that a lot of workers in Fayette County are spilling over into Madison County to reside, but while there has been residential growth, there is no room for commercial growth to keep up with it.
“It is odd to me that you see all these bars and restaurants on the river bordering on the county line, but they are all in Fayette county. We can have restaurants, but they are more profitable when you can serve alcohol with the food,” he said.
His petition, which has circulated for a little more than two weeks, requires 25 percent of registered voters that voted in the last election to sign so that it will be put on the general election ballot in November.
The petition reads, "Are you in favor of alcoholic sales in Madison County?," and it currently holds 2,000 signatures out of the nearly 12,000 it needs to move forward.
If O’Donley does reach the necessary threshold, County Clerk Kenny Barger will then de-duplicate signatures and verify that all signatures are registered voters in the county.
He stated that the day before circulation, he scheduled a meeting with Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor to give a head's up and see if he would be interested in signing.
“As the county’s most highest elected official, I wanted to give him the chance if he wanted to sign the petition first, but the meeting sort of got canceled at the last minute,” he explained. “I know some county officials — whether it’s their personal beliefs that they think it’s just wrong — or political calculus, I don’t anticipate him getting on board.”
He believes the biggest opponents of the county becoming wet are Fayette and Clark counties, and existing bars and restaurants in Richmond and Berea that don’t want competition.
“This isn’t the silver bullet that is going to make us instantaneously profitable, and anyone that says that is lying, but I think it is part of the solution. In the counties I have studied, it has been a net benefit to all of them,” he said.
Those interested in signing the petition can sign at any of the petition stations located at Boone's Trace Golf Club, Richmond Beer House, the BP gas station at exit 97, the Shell gas station next to Kohl’s or at the Richmond Bypass near Cookout.
Interested persons may also sign an online forum on their mobile device or desktop by going to makemadisoncountywet.com. O’Donley said the petition and forum are both confidential, and names will only be submitted to the county clerk.
“We can’t do this alone. We’re really dependent on people to be taking an interest in the issue,” he said.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.