ELLIS COUNTY — Social media was abuzz throughout the week with "reports" of solicitors making door-to-door rounds throughout Midlothian.
Speculations of potential wrongdoing were quickly laid to rest Friday afternoon when Texas Petition Strategies of Austin (TPSA) reached out to local law enforcement agencies and media outlets with the reasoning behind their solicitations — alcohol.
According to a TPSA press release, the company has already conducted local option alcohol elections in all three communities. In fact, the group has held over 300 petition drives in more than 180 Texas communities with a greater than 83-percent-petition-and-election success rate.
“We are proud of the fact that we have helped over 150 Texas communities bring in new retail businesses, created thousands of new jobs and generated millions of dollars in local tax revenue, all without having to raise local property taxes,” noted TPS President John Hatch.
Bryan Poff, a TPSA representative, said the group conducted the petition drives for the sale of alcohol in Waxahachie, Midlothian, Red Oak and DeSoto.
According to the release, a group of citizens are asking voters in Ellis County Precinct 4, which includes northwest Ellis County, to sign petitions "calling for a local option alcohol election for May 2017. [...] State law requires the group to collect slightly more than 5,000 signatures of JP 4 voters to call the election."
"The group is asking voters to place two propositions on the ballot. The purpose of the effort is to support a new event center and amusement park coming to the area and to establish one set of rules for all areas in that part of the county," the release adds.
According to Poff, the new event center, Blaine Stone Lodge, will be located just outside of the Midlothian city limits and will include a wedding venue, indoor event center, and outdoor attractions — ranging from dirt bikes to an opportunity for patrons to drive heavy machinery, such as front-end loaders and bulldozers.
"But because they are not in the city limits, they are ‘dry’ for alcohol sales," the TPSA release reads. "This will allow them to have a restaurant and old-fashioned general store at the park for their patrons."
The release states that one petition will allow a vote for the legal sale of beer and wine in businesses, such as grocery and convenience stores, but will not allow package liquor sales or liquor stores.
The second petition states “for the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only,” which will allow state recognized restaurants to serve alcohol without requiring the “private club” memberships.
Poff assured that neither petition will allow for "nightclubs" or liquor stores.
If enough signatures are collected, the elections will take place in Pct. 4, which encompasses Midlothian, most of Red Oak and portions of Waxahachie.
"Midlothian and Waxahachie approved beer and wine sales in grocery and convenience stores as well as mixed beverage sales in restaurants in 2007 and 2008, respectively," the TPSA release details. "Red Oak approved beer and wine in grocery stores in 2010, but they did not vote on restaurant sales."
According to Poff, the ultimate goal is to give businesses in the county the same options in regards to alcohol sales as those within the cities limits.
“According to the Texas Restaurant Association, it can cost restaurants as much as $3,000 to $20,000 per year to meet the requirements of being a private club," explained Cammy Jackson, Midlothian Chamber of Commerce President. "By adopting the same law that already exists in Midlothian, our future restaurants will not have to be a private clubs and incur all these additional costs and fees.”
Candi Tebbs of the Midlothian Event Center noted that they "are excited about building this great facility in Ellis County.
"We will be a destination facility for weddings and special events as well as other outdoor amenities," she added. "Changing this law will allow us to offer a full range of services to our guests."
As it relates to annexation issues, alcohol laws are not the same as a city ordinance, as with a city ordinance, the rules expand to areas as they are annexed into the city, the release explains.
"However, for alcohol laws, the wet and dry boundaries of an alcohol election do not change if the city annexes new areas," the press release continues. "The wet and dry boundaries are based on when the election was held. Any area annexed after the election would remain 'dry.' An election in Pct. 4 will allow the same alcohol sales rules throughout the area, so even if a city annexes more territory, they will not be required to have another election."
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith