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School board will deal directly with liquor license requests

With Sunnyside City Councilman Bruce Ricks sitting in the audience, a passionate Bill Smith made his case about what the Sunnyside School District's stance on liquor license requests should be.

Ricks and Smith have championed the cause of trying to vanquish what they deem as unreasonable advertising of alcohol and tobacco products in the community for some time. Ricks has lobbied for the cause as a councilman while Smith as a school board member has made his point.

In the end last night, Smith received the support of the school board for exactly what the law entitles, but with a twist. What Smith wanted and received from the school board was the directors to have the final say on whether a liquor license request is approved.

Currently, liquor license requests from merchants with stores near schools are sent to the building principals located closest to the business. Traditionally, a school district holds a lot of power on whether or not a business is allowed to sell alcoholic products, as any kind of vote against the owner usually doesn't allow the license request to be approved.

Smith said he felt as an elected official the burden should be placed on the board instead of individual building principals to decide on liquor license requests.

"I think we should ultimately make that decision," reaffirmed Smith.

Smith has been discussing liquor license requests for the past few months, after some confusion arose stemming from a liquor license request from a store that is located on the corner across from Chief Kamiakin Elementary School.

"I think he needs to be a better citizen," said Smith of the store owner.

Smith said the issue he has with this particular store is that the owner paints the outside of his business with banners promoting alcohol.

"Those same signs have been there since he went into business," said Smith.

Smith added he has the same issue with another store across from the high school. Smith said he feels that the owners of both stores are not being responsible with the way they promote alcohol.

"They don't show good community responsibility," said Smith.

Smith added to his argument by saying the school district is at faults of sorts for dishing out money to educate and deter youth from using alcohol and tobacco but won't take a stand against businesses advertising alcohol.

Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said he doesn't want to utilize staff's time for issues the city should be dealing with.

"What I don't want to become is the police," said Cole.

School board member Steve Carpenter added much the same thoughts. He said he felt it was important for the district to have strong drug and alcohol policies, but he didn't want to interfere with a business owner's right to make money. Carpenter said he felt it was more of the city's responsibility to deal with such issues as alcohol advertising.

Smith countered by saying that he was asking nothing more of the school board but to enhance what the state allows, which is for districts to have a say in approving liquor license requests.

Board member Lorenzo Garza, who was serving as chair last night in the absence of Joanne Kilian, said he didn't want it to look like the directors had a hidden agenda. He said it is important that it is not put out in the community that the board will always say no to such requests.

Ricks offered his input, saying that advertising alcohol is big business for the store owners and they aren't as likely to want to part with that money. Ricks said there are nine stores within sight of district schools that sell alcohol.

"Advertising is powerful," said Garza, who added the issue is a community one in many ways.

The board directed Cole to seek the opinion of the state attorney general on who should have the final say in the district with liquor license requests.

In the end, though, the board voted to have all liquor license requests be forwarded to the directors.

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