By Errol Castens / Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD - Mayor Pat Patterson has decided to support a request by the Board of Aldermen to legalize restaurant sales of alcoholic beverages on certain special-event Sundays.
Board members approved the measure on Dec. 7 by a 4-3 margin, and Patterson had not disclosed until Monday whether he would veto or sign the request.
The city will ask for Alcohol Beverage Control approval to permanently authorize on-premises Sunday sales of liquor and wine between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, University of Mississippi home football weekends and New Year's Eve.
"I disagree with it from the bottom of my heart, but I think it's a compromise the community can live with," Patterson said. "I'm personally opposed to Sunday alcohol, but it gives some economic relief to some people who say they need this."
Alcohol has long been a contentious subject in Oxford. Restaurants that serve alcohol keep its central business district busy, but the town has also seen several fatalities in recent years involving innocent victims at the hands of drunken drivers.
The issue of Sunday alcohol sales was elevated early this year after ABC turned down a variance request to allow restaurants to serve alcohol on Valentine's Day. The agency had previously approved such variances for Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve and once when Ole Miss hosted a Labor Day football game.
Some residents contend legalization would make Sunday just another partying day in Oxford.
"The people who live around the Square will have to put up with one more evening of ... the things we put up with on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights," downtown resident Becky Moreton told aldermen Dec. 7.
A recent alcohol task force, however, said other college towns surveyed have not seen such a change, and the 9 p.m. cutoff is well before police encounter most alcohol-related problems.
Tourism officials and business owners say alcohol-free Sundays put Oxford at a competitive disadvantage against Tupelo, Starkville and other cities that have relaxed their blue laws.
"I don't think there's anyone who's for the 'culture of alcohol,' but that's separate from the issue of Sunday alcohol sales," Oxford Restaurant Association President Jerry Jordan said on Dec. 7.
If ABC approves the change, it will take effect on Mother's Day, May 8.
Aldermen are scheduled to vote Jan. 4 on a separate matter to legalize beer sales at grocery and convenience stores from noon to 6 on all Sundays.
"I'm going to veto the Sunday sale of beer and any other expansions of Sunday alcohol sales that come up in the future," Patterson said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.