May 4, 2006 - Posted at 4:00 p.m. CST
ROGERS, AR - It holds the title of home of the world's largest retailer, but it has a second, unofficial title.
"I believe it's the wettest dry county in the USA."
Although it's hard to prove, private club owner Kevin Johnson can't be far off when talking about Benton County. Legally, it's a dry county, but in the two boom towns that make up the majority of the population, Bentonville and Rogers, there are 90 private clubs selling alcohol. Rogers has 40 of them.
"You're almost a minority if you don't." says Bill Adams.
Bill Adams is on the Benton County quorum court. He's also running for county judge. His platform, the wet/dry issue should be on the ballot.
"Bent County buys more alcohol per capita than any other county in the state."
To get the wet/dry issue on the ballot 38% of the registered voters in the county have to sign a petition. It's the same in Craighead County. Adams, and his organization, "Time To Decide Benton County" is leading the charge to make that happen.
As you may expect there is opposition but not like we're used to seeing in Craighead County. Whenever another club or restaurant asks for a permit to pour it's rarely front page news. And you never see those against private club permits stating their case to the state ABC board. \
"Probably not as much as people would think." says Jennifer Turner.
Benton County is Jennifer Turner's beat. She's covered the wet/dry issue through town hall meetings and private club openings. She believes those against the county going wet, primarily the churches, will fight, but not yet. She says if the item gets on the ballot, that's when you'll see the churches fight.
"Why would you want an enemy like that at home in your community?" The enemy, according to Pastor Tom Hatley of Rogers' Immanuel Baptist Church, is alcohol. He blames a good share of his community's problems on it, and believes that if Benton County were to go wet things would only get worse.
"There's no need to have another vote."
Do more clubs equal more crime? Not necessarily. When you compare the 2005 records from the Jonesbore and Rogers police departments, you see some interesting things. Remember, Rogers has over three times as many permits as Jonesboro.
In 2005 Rogers, with 40 permits, had 276 drunk driving arrests last year. Jonesboro with 13 permits, had 254. Public intox arrests in Rogers in 2005? 99 Jonesboro one third the permits, 2.5 times the arrests 249. Minor in possession? Rogers 10. Jonesboro 17.
Based on these statistics, it's hard to make an argument that the amount of private club permits in a community has any effect on crime.
But let's talk about the real issue that comes with the wet/dry debate.
"It's all about the money." says pastor Hatley.
A 2004 study by the University of Arkansas looked into the economic impact of legalizing liquor sales in Benton County. It was paid for by Bill Adams' group, and it found that the county is losing over 28 million dollars in sales each year to surrounding wet counties.
Bill Adams says, "I will do what I can to keep that money from leaving."