NWA editorial: A local veto power

Cities, counties get more say on private clubs

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Wrapped up in the daily give and take of political debate, beyond the pros and cons of any issue, is the matter of who gets to make decisions.

No, we're not talking about Jeff Long's future. Go Hogs!

What’s the point?

More local control over private clubs is a good decision for cities and counties most affected by their operation.

But there are important questions, such as whether it is best for Congress to set a national speed limit or to let individual states more familiar with their topography and safety measures make the decision?

Ought a city have the authority to establish its own standards involving the protection of civil rights or should such standards be applied at the state or federal levels?

Since the nation's founding, and really well before, what might be called the balance of power among local, state and federal governments has been a constant factor in the Americans experience. The federal government is probably more massive and involved in more issues than the Founding Fathers could have ever imagined. From issue to issue, the authority to make decisions fluctuates among local, state and federal jurisdiction.

The question of private clubs and their operation across Arkansas used to be solely a state decision. Sure, the folks down at the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency sought feedback from people like sheriffs and police chiefs, prosecutors, mayors and county judges, but the decision of whether to grant a private club permit remained in Little Rock.

That's not entirely true anymore, and towns like Fayetteville and Greenwood are wading into a new level of local power. It looks like in counties and towns across the state, elected leaders have new muscle to use in controlling what's happening in their communities.

Just the other night, the Fayetteville City Council considered whether to grant permission for operators of the VIP Club to apply for a state-issued private club license. The proposal would allow the club to open in an area of West Avenue near Watson Street, not far from the Dickson Street entertainment district.

Police say that area has developed into a regular headache for law enforcement. Especially around closing time, as people influenced by adult beverages spill out of the clubs to head home or wherever their nocturnal adventures will take them, there have been repeated brawls or other incidents requiring attention.

Hey, nobody suggests Fayetteville is getting all puritanical. The Dickson Street area is celebrated for its entertainment options, many of which include inebriating variations on liquid refreshment. But who knows better -- or should -- than locally elected leaders when it comes to evaluating whether enough is enough, or what kinds of accommodations need to be made if a new club wants to open its doors? Is it a bureaucrat in Little Rock or the mayor and City Council?

The City Council of Greenwood in Sebastian County this week rejected two requests to apply for a state private club liquor permit as residents implored them to keep establishments serving alcohol out of the community.

Game Day Sports Grill and the Vache Grasse Recreation Area Golf Course asked for the City Council's permission to apply to the state under a new locally focused process adopted in the last session of the state Legislature. They didn't get it.

Once upon a time, the City Council wouldn't have even gotten involved in the process. Now, it can stop an application.

Maybe that doesn't sound very business friendly for folks who formerly might have successfully obtained a private club permit, but it does sound like local people making decisions based on local experience and attitudes.

We like the idea that Greenwood gets to decide what Greenwood will be.

If local leaders back a private club permit application, the people seeking it still have to go through the state process, so it can be argued that our Republican-controlled Legislature has created more regulation rather than less. That might appear to run contrary to the usual GOP mantra of smaller government. But giving local people the power to control their own destiny can hardly be viewed as a wrong move when it comes to private clubs.

Not every issue can or should be viewed as a local decision, but on this one, our state Legislature got it right.

Commentary on 11/10/2017