A public meeting on the proposed Savannah liquor store threatened to descend into farce on Thursday night when a group supporting the proposed store clashed with opponents.
Meeting organisers struggled to maintain control of proceedings as approximately 15 supporters of the proposed liquor store interjected and heckled speakers.
One, Howard McLean of Savannah, repeatedly yelled, ‘cocaine is the problem, alcohol is not the problem.’
Health Minister and local MLA Anthony Eden drew a raucous applause, calling for the interjectors to leave the room if they could not be quiet.
On a night of high emotion, Mr. Eden again called on Liquor Licensing Board Chairman Mitchell Welds to resign following his decision to allow Jacques Scott Group to move its liquor store from Red Bay Plaza, which is to be demolished, to Savannah.
With the decision set to be reviewed by the full Liquor Licensing Board on 7 June, Tourism Minister Charles Clifford told the meeting the Government would take action if the board did not take heed of community sentiment when making its decision.
‘We expect the board will follow the law. If the board does not follow the law, I can give an assurance that we appoint the board and we will do something about it if they don’t follow the law.’
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who drew loud applause for his bipartisan stand on the issue, said he would sack the board if he were in government.
‘I subscribe to an old view of things that says ‘I put you there and if you can’t do what I put you there to do then we will have to part company’.’
But Mr. Clifford said any attempt to dictate a decision to the board would be counterproductive as it would expose the decision to judicial review.
‘If we wrote a letter to the Liquor Licensing Board (instructing them how to act) … it would go to court and the court would say that the Government has usurped the Liquor Licensing Board’s authority.’
Mr. Bush said he would table a motion in the Legislative Assembly to have the law changed so more weight was given to community sentiment.
Earlier, meeting organiser Heather Bodden told approximately 100 opponents of the plan that the fight against the proposed store was about protecting children.
‘I am going to pound this into your head tonight; this is all about the children.’
She said Savannah residents were being walked over by foreigners.
Though Jacques Scott is a Caymanian company, it was one of many attacks on ‘foreign influence’ throughout the evening; an apparent reference to Jacques Scott’s Managing Director Peter Dutton.
‘This has become a larger issue that just one liquor store,’ said local resident Woody DeCosta, ‘this is about the Caymanian voice being heard.
‘If you allow this thing to go through we have no more say in our country.’
Mr. DeCosta asked those in attendance to sign a letter demanding the Liquor Licensing Board overturn the Chairman’s initial ruling when they meet on 7 June.
Jacques Scott places ads
Struggling to contain growing controversy over the proposed liquor store, Jacques Scott Group took out full page advertisements in Friday’s newspapers explaining their plans.
The advertisements said the objectors may simply be against alcohol in principle and that the application for a licence transfer to Countryside Village was not the correct forum for such a debate.
Those opposed to the outlet had loudly made their feelings heard, it said.
‘We at Jacques Scott believe that there is a sizeable portion of the community, both within Savannah and further afield, who feel equally passionately that a liquor store would be an appropriate and desirable addition to Countryside Village.’
It said the company had presented the Liquor Licensing Board with the signatures of 654 Countryside Village customers from Savannah and Bodden Town that had no problem with the proposed licence transfer, compared with a list of 93 objectors.
On Friday, Mrs. Bodden said opponents had not had enough time to organise a petition prior to the initial application hearing. She said more than 200 signatures had been added to the letter Mr. DeCosta presented at the meeting, with more expected over the weekend.
Speaking Thursday, Mr. Dutton said his company was being unfairly maligned, pointing out that a government road widening programme was forcing them out of the current Red Bay Plaza location.
He said Jacques Scott had a 40-year record of community involvement and had never sold liquor to a minor nor breached liquor licensing laws.
‘The suggestion that we would sell alcohol to children or in any way make it available to them is outrageous, and frankly, deeply offensive.’