What happens if the city schedules a wet-dry election, but state law makes the result moot for part of the city? That’s what we may find out if the group gathering signatures for a November vote gets on the ballot.
That’s because a section of Texas’ Alcoholic Beverage Code doesn’t allow a city-wide election to change the wet-dry status of an area if that area has already voted on the issue and if the area is "wholly contained" within the city. And Oak Cliff seems to fit that definition, even if the dry parts of Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands, and Far North Dallas don’t.
Sound confusing? That’s because it is; so confusing, in fact, that several attorneys told me that the city could be sued for even scheduling an election, let alone over what the results mean. More, after the jump:
I’ve spent the past week trying to make sense of Section 251.73 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. As near as I can tell, and with much help from Lou Bright, the former general counsel of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Oak Cliff and most of Dallas south of the Trinity falls under the conditions outlined in 251.73. It held a wet-dry election in 1956 and the area that voted to go dry was wholly contained within the Dallas city limits.
In other words, even if there is a referendum and Dallas votes to allow retail beer and wine sales in November, Oak Cliff — and most of Dallas south of the Trinity — could remain dry. The key, says Bright, is what the boundaries were for Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, where the 1956 election was held. Today, there is no JP precinct 7; it is apparently part of the current precincts 1 and 5. Newspaper accounts describe precinct 7 as being in the city between Loop 12 and the Trinity River.
If that’s the case, then the provisions of 251.73 would apply, says Bright. But there is doubt about what the boundaries of precinct 7 were in 1956. Bruce Sherbet, who oversees elections for Dallas County, says he doesn’t have a 1956 precinct map. If he needs a map to check boundaries for an election, he has to request it from the county’s public works department. He said he would request one since I asked, but he doesn’t know if one exists. Update: I’ve been told by Dallas County that I have to file an open records request for the map, which I’ve done. In addition, there are no 1956 precinct maps at the Dallas Historical Society, and the library’s map collection has one from 1952, but without any street detail.
I asked Kroger’s Gary Huddleston, whose company is one of those behind the wet-dry election, if he knew about 251.73 and its ramifications. He said he didn’t know that specific part of the law, but that "we’ve had the best legal minds look at the whole situation. In a city-wide election, even though Oak Cliff had voted to go dry, if the city votes to go wet, it would wet up Oak Cliff for beer and wine sales."
I also talked to Chris Bowers with the city attorney’s office, who said the city attorney’s office will brief the city council about the proposed election on April 7. He said department policy was not to comment until the council was briefed, but that he expected there would be a robust discussion of the issue at the briefing.
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