Friday, September 06, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Mind your own business

Jonesboro, Pea Ridge, Tupelo, Miss., folks in Nashville and even New Hampshire — why can’t they leave us alone?

Let Jacksonville residents decide on their own whether they want to live in a city that is 90 percent dry and 10 percent wet or vote to make it all wet.

And that’s what the whole push is about — a vote by the local residents, not Jonesboro, Pea Ridge, Tupelo and other outsiders.

The city is 90 percent dry because of elections in 1954 and 1956 in the Old Gray Township, which encompassed most of Jacksonville and half of Sherwood back then. Because the township no longer exists as a political entity, state law says signatures must be collected asking for a vote on the issue.

Jacksonville officials, the chamber and others are trying to gather about 4,400 signatures to allow a vote on the subject.

Money seems to be pouring in from those outside areas and groups for billboards, placards, giant postcards and a “Jacksonville” website.

These outside groups are also providing false figures and outlandish claims in the battle between staying dry or going wet — having alcohol or not.

The website “Growing Jacksonville” is using statistics from modern-day Carrie Nations in Jonesboro and Pea Ridge. Those figures claim going wet would be worse than a Razorback fan wearing an Alabama T-shirt to a Hogs’ game. The figures claim murders would rise, along with robberies, prostitution, and who knows, even the cost of bread and gasoline.

The problem is none of the statistics are about Jacksonville, or the other two area cities dealing with the wet-dry issue — North Little Rock and Sherwood.

Using the latest figures available and looking at the purported murder rate, the touted anti-alcohol statistics of more murder in wet counties don’t measure up.

Most of Pulaski County is wet, as is nearby Garland County, while adjoining White and Lonoke counties are dry. In 2011, based on figures provide by the Arkansas Crime Information Center, dry White and Lonoke counties each had four murders, while wet Garland County also had four. But Garland County’s population is 20,000 to 30,000 greater, meaning the two dry counties are more dangerous.

Pulaski County did have 61 murders in 2011, including two in Sherwood, but were those two committed in the wet or dry portions of Sherwood?

Even if both were in Sherwood’s wet areas, that city would statistically be safer to live in than the surrounding dry counties. In 2011, Jacksonville had no homicides in its 90 percent dry area or its 10 percent wet area.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said there was a lot of angst over the dangers, detriment and decline of alcohol when Chili’s Bar and Grill moved into Jacksonville about five years ago. “Everyone will say it has been an asset, not a detriment. It’s a good indicator of things to come if we go wet.”

The phony claims have upset the police chief, who has worked hard to keep crime at a minimal in the city. Chief Gary Sipes insists the figures touted by these outsiders have nothing to do with Jacksonville.

And the latest piece of propaganda put out by the “Growing Jacksonville” website, which does not list a moderator or owner, is an article from New Hampshire declaring how horrible alcohol has been for the state.

Forget that we are in the South and New Hampshire is, well, nowhere nearby. The article is about an entire state that proudly declares it sells cheap alcohol.

That’s not what Jacksonville wants. The city just wants more national sit-down restaurants.

“We travel down the highway to a variety of them, giving our money to those cities. Why can’t we stay here and enjoy a nice meal with a glass of alcohol?” Mayor Fletcher has lamented.

So let’s all raise our glasses, whether filled with wine or juice, to democracy and the greatness of local people deciding local issues. We vote here and New Hampshire can, well, just play with Vermont.