Friday, May 5, 2006

Meade County voters won’t decide on beer sales

Meade County voters won’t decide on beer sales
By Nicole Carlson, Meade County Times-Tribune Friday, May 05, 2006

STURGIS � Meade County voters will not be given the chance to decide whether an Arizona man should be allowed to sell beer near Bear Butte.

Despite a number of petitions that were turned in seeking to refer the license to a countywide vote, the Meade County Commission unanimously decided Thursday morning that their decision to grant a license to Broken Spoke owner Jay Allen was an administrative action and, therefore, the issue cannot be referred to a vote.

The issue of selling liquor near Bear Butte has been the subject of two organized protests and likely will be the subject of a third. Allen has now applied for a liquor license, which would be transferred from Mad Mary’s Steakhouse. The commission is expected to decide that matter next month.

On April 4, the commission unanimously approved a beer license for Allen’s new facility, Sturgis County Line and Bear Butte Sunsets, after nearly two hours of testimony against the action from American Indian activists who consider Bear Butte sacred.

Allen bought 600 acres north of Bear Butte last summer. The campground and saloon, now under construction, are set to open in time for the 2006 Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Opponents spent the past week gathering more than 750 signatures from Meade County residents in an attempt to overturn the commission’s decision. However, the county commission decides whether the issue is referable.

According to commissioner Dayle Hammock, the commission reviewed its decision and legal cases and met with lawyers in the state’s attorney’s office before making the decision.

“The action was an administrative decision,” Hammock said. “We decline to authorize a referendum concerning that decision.”

According to state law, administrative decisions are not subject to a referendum, but legislative decisions are.

By definition, a legislative decision is “one that enacts a permanent law or lays down a rule of conduct or course of policy for the guidance of citizens or their officers. Any matter of a permanent or general character is a legislative decision.”

Hammock said approving a beer license does not fall within that definition.

“If we made the law, it would be referable,” Hammock said. “We followed the procedure; therefore, it was an administrative process.”

Anne White Hat, a member of the Bear Butte International Alliance, criticized the board’s decision. She said she expects a public outcry.

“Are you saying that the voice of the people does not matter to you?” White Hat asked the commission.

Hammock defended the decision.

“We have followed the law, and if you do not like the law, you need to go to the Legislature,” Hammock said. “The Legislature makes the law; we follow the law.”

White Hat said the decision was an easy way out for the commissioners.

“We feel you are making a really bad decision,” White Hat said. “We’re not going away. We will be back.”

White Hat told the commissioners that her group already had pursued the next steps. Two separate groups filed court challenges Tuesday in 4th Circuit Court. Rapid City attorney Bruce Ellison filed one challenge on behalf of Meade County rancher Jessie Levin and six others.

According to the document, the group identified 10 different grounds for the appeal, including unsuitable location, failure to follow proper legal standards in the application process and violation of due process.

Also, the document alleges that a conflict of interest exists regarding commissioner Dean Wink. Before a legislative committee in January, Wink testified against a bill that would have banned alcoholic-beverage licenses within four miles of Bear Butte. That testimony indicates an “actual risk of prejudice and/or bias of said decision maker and/or personal and/or selfish motives which influenced and tainted the proceedings, and deprived opponents of the granting of the license of a fair and impartial consideration and of a fair hearing.”

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe attorney and state legislator Tom Van Norman filed another similar challenge on behalf of the tribe. Van Norman’s suit alleges that the county commission acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in determining Allen’s character and that the commission erred in “placing the burden of demonstrating suitability of character upon the challengers.”

Nancy Kile, also a member of the Bear Butte International Alliance, said the issue is not one of American Indians versus bikers or residents against bikers.

“It’s an issue of Meade County residents wanting to take our land back,” she said.

Kile said that being granted a liquor license is a privilege, not a right. She said in exchange for the license, citizens expect accountability and responsible businessmen.

Levin said she expects public outrage at the commissioners’ decision to deny the petitions.

“There was a hope that the people were finally going to get a say and a vote,” Levin said. “Our vote was taken away.”

Although the issue of Allen’s malt-beverage license is far from finished, his application for a liquor license could overshadow it. On Thursday, Meade County Auditor Lisa Schieffer said that the county received an application for a full liquor license for the Sturgis County Line facility. The license is a retail on-sale license that would be transferred from Mad Mary’s Steakhouse near Black Hawk.

Although the county is not involved in the private transaction, including the cost for the license, they make the ultimate decision about the approval of the transfer.

The commission will meet today to officially set the hearing for Friday, June 9, at 9 a.m. in the courtroom of Meade County Courthouse.