There were few empty seats in the courtroom at the Easley Law Enforcement Center for Monday's City Council meeting, as the hotly contested alcohol ordinances were up for a final vote.
The ordinances, which would allow the sale and consumption of alcohol during fund-raising events held in Old Market Square, would pass 5-2, despite pleas from concerned residents.
Only two council members voted against the ordinance — Libby Dodson and Thomas Wright. Mayor Larry Bagwell and council members Brian Garrison, Chris Mann, Kim Valentin and David Watson voted to approve the ordinance.
"I've invested a lot of money in Easley," Bagwell said. "And the downtown merchants feel this is a move in the right direction, as far as giving economic value back to them. It's a tough decision, especially when you know a lot of these people who speak for and who speak against."
"I'm sorry it didn't go the way a lot them wanted, but we feel it's the right vote. We put a good, strong ordinance in place."
It was a vote, Cynthia Smoak, executive director of the Pickens County Cancer Association, was glad to have behind her.
Smoak had asked the city to consider allowing alcohol sales in December and again addressed the council in February. The cancer association is planning a barbecue fundraiser in April and Smoak said the group could raise an additional $7,000 through alcohol sales.
Smoak's request and council's consideration has drawn scrutiny from many Easley residents, who pointed to the Bible, to family members and to the community as a reason to vote, "no."
Following the vote, the court room began to clear out, forcing Bagwell to call for a recess and give those defeated by the vote an opportunity to leave.
During the public comments session, six people had asked council to vote "no," while only one gave pause to free will and the choices each person can make.
Frank Young, who retired from the restaurant business, said the real point people were missing was that individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions. He said each person is responsible for his or her actions, not council. He pointed to Genesis and to God's creation of the grapes and hops, and then to the New Testament where he spoke of Jesus, as being the first to turn water into wine.
"I think if Jesus were here tonight, he would enjoy himself," Young said. "But he would enjoy himself as a responsible individual."
Richard Lee was the first to offer his comments. Lee had brought with him a number of men from Home With A Heart, a Christian-based rehab in Liberty for men recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. He said each of the men there could attest to the impact alcohol has had in their lives.
Lee told the council that inevitably someone would leave Old Market Square intoxicated and that he wanted council to know, he would personally hold them responsible, if someone was injured.
"Passage of an ordinance may protect you from the letter of the law, but it puts you in an immoral position as council members," Lee said. "Easley is on a slippery slope."
Lee said that he feels at some point someone will ask that the ordinance be amended to allow hard liquor, but asked where do the allowances stop.
He said if the same entities came back and said, "'what we need now is topless waitresses,'" which drew a laugh from the crowd, "Are you going to allow that as well?"
Former council member Margaret Gibson said she felt the ordinance would leave a "black mark" on the City of Easley.
Gibson, a 10-year survivor of cancer, said that alcohol could be as devastating to a family as cancer. She pointed to children who were waking up hungry to fix themselves breakfast and finding no food in the home, because the parent was an alcoholic. She also spoke of a wife afraid of being beaten by a husband who had had too much to drink. And to also consider the feelings of a mother, who was awaken by police, to tell her that their child had been killed by a drunken driver.
"It's easy to amend a law," she said. "It's easy to find a way around the law. But it is a slap in the face of God and of cancer. It is a slap in the face to me."
Other community members told council to remember the next time a child died in a car accident as a result of alcohol, that they would be the ones who helped to make that possible.
Another told council, he would work to replace everyone on council over the next two year or at least make sure that no of them ran unopposed in future elections.
While still others, vowed not to bring their family back to the city for events.
Resident Brian Hale argued that the council had been given misinformation by the South Carolina Barbecue Association President Lake High of Columbia. High had told council last month that the group oversees approximately 35 barbecue competitions across the state each year and that cookers wouldn't come, if alcohol was not allowed.
Hale said that he talked to the police chief in Bamberg, where a barbecue event had been held. The town, which Hale did not name, was a dry town where alcohol had never been sold. When the cookers left, according to Hale's report, they left behind liquor and beer bottles and would not be invited back.
Hale said he is concerned about who, "we've invited into our town." He asked if anyone had checked them out.
Hale also said he talked to the Chief Jeff Arrowood of Tryon Police regarding the barbecue event that is held in the town each year.
"He (the chief) told me they don't have a barbecue event, he said they hold a three-day music festival and that the barbecue cookers are invited in just like the sno-cone and popcorn vendors," Hale said.
However, the Blue Ridge BBQ & Music Festival website, says the event is "one of America's most prestigious barbecue competitions."
Hale said they had some arrests for underage drinking, reports of thefts after hours at the event and a handful of other crimes during the event last year.
Hale said he just wants to make sure that the town knows what it's getting into and that it's prepared to handle what comes with it.
"If it takes me two years or four years, as soon as we get four votes in this council to turn this thing over, we are going to turn it back," Hale said.