Beer tasting and alcohol sales in Fort Oglethorpe have created a rift on the City Council, with tempers flaring Monday night in what councilmen say was the most contentious meeting in years.
One flashpoint is a change to the city's alcoholic beverage ordinance that allows businesses to sell three 1-ounce samples of beer per day to a customer. Beverage World on Cloud Springs Road sought the beer tasting to help customers choose among 20 brews on tap for "growlers" -- refillable 32- and 64-ounce beer bottles.
Councilman Charles Sharrock doesn't drink, but he didn't see any harm in allowing beer tasting.
"They can have three samples in a 24-hour period," Sharrock said. "It would take four days to drink a [12-ounce] beer like that."
Sharrock, Earl Gray and Eddie Stinnett approved the tasting in a 3-0 vote at the council's Jan. 9 meeting.
Councilman Louis Hamm, an alcohol opponent, was out sick that night, as was Mayor Lynn Long.
Mayor Pro Tem Johnnie "Red" Smith couldn't vote against beer tasting on Jan. 9 because he was running the meeting in a nonvoting capacity in the mayor's absence. Smith wanted Stinnett to run the meeting, but Sharrock, Gray and Stinnett voted to have Smith run things.
"It was preplanned, in my opinion," Smith said angrily Monday night of the beer-tasting vote. "It seems like we will go to any length for alcohol."
This isn't the first time that the issue of alcohol has divided the council, Sharrock said. Fort Oglethorpe voters narrowly rejected a November 2011 ballot measure that would have allowed Sunday package beer and wine sales.
Earlier, when the council voted 3-2 to put the measure on the ballot, "Johnnie Smith and them beat us up on that, too," Sharrock said.
Councilmen also argued Monday over the purchase of a heavy-duty work truck that fell through and whether it was appropriate for City Manager Ron Goulart to discuss a personnel matter in closed-door session with Long, Hamm and Smith.
Sharrock and Smith agreed that Monday's meeting was very contentious and that most council meetings aren't like that.
"I don't like these kinds of meetings," Smith said. "But sometimes it comes to a point that you have to make your feelings known."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.