Jonesboro Developer Ready To Sue Over Wet-Dry Laws

Posted at 11:00 PM on May 9, 2006

Jonesboro--Craighead county is dry. Kind of.

Currently, there are 16 private clubs in the county with more to come. The recent addition of Outback Steakhouse to that list is conisidered the tipping point in the great wet-dry debate in Craighead County. And that debate may take a legal turn. Bruce burrow, the developer of the Mall At Turtle Creek, is making plans to sue the state.

"I think it's the right thing to do."

At issue for Burrow is the constitionality of a 1944 state law that stated a county needs 38 percent of its registered voters to sign a petition to get a county's wet-dry status on the ballot for a vote. What Burrow wants to do is make that rule 15%, like it is for every other ballot measure.

In it's 62 year history, the 38% rule has only been challenged once in Craighead County, 1978, and it wasn't even close, 70-30 to stay dry. But those who find the 38% rule antiquated, Burrow among them, say the city of Jonesboro and the county have changed and grown too much for the 38% rule to be realistic.

"My position is let's vote, but let's make it a fair vote. You won't be able to get 38% of the voters to sign a petition so you won't be able to get it to a vote."

In that 1978 election, not even 19,000 votes were cast on the issue. In 2006, with just over 52,000 registered voters in Craighead County, you would need to get nearly 1000 more signatures on a petition than there were voters 28 years ago. But, if that number was reduced to 15% like every other ballot measure that number drops dramatically to 7800 signatures.

State Representative and candidate for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel doesn't think litigation will be effective.

"It's been there for a long time and it has not been overturned thus far. I think the best way is if you want to change it our democratically elected members should do that."

But is that a possibility?  Burrow's proposed lawsuit would change the rules for all 43 dry counties in the state.

Burrow says, "I'm going to back it. It's something that should be resolved. Will I fund it? haven't decided yet. I don't want to carry the ball myself, but I do think we need to have it resolved."

Burrow has not yet filed a suit and he does not want Craighead County to become totally wet. He doesn't want a liqour store on every corner. That is not the goal. The goal is to make all ballot measures 15%. That would not only allow the wet-dry issue a realistic opportunity to make the ballot, but it would give counties the possibility to offer another option, liquor by the drink.