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Barbecue event organizer feels burned by vote

City to revisit decision on permit at called meeting tonight

POSTED: November 7, 2013 12:29 a.m.
 

The founder and lead organizer of an upcoming national barbecue competition took a strong stand Wednesday against the Cumming City Council’s decision a day earlier not to issue him a special permit to sell beer and wine at the popular event.

“My reaction right now is that I have consulted an attorney,” Randall Bowman said. “We’re going to end up filing a lawsuit against the city and every city councilman if it doesn’t change because they will have cost the event tens of thousands of dollars.”

The third annual National Barbecue Cup: Que’n in Cumming is scheduled for Nov. 15 and 16 at the Cumming Fairgrounds. Organizers had been preparing as if they would receive the special permit, even touting a beer garden on their website.

In the wake of the unexpected decision Tuesday night, Bowman’s attorney sent a letter to the city. While the exact wording was not made public, it appears the possible threat of litigation got the attention of city leaders.

The city council scheduled a second called meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday. The agenda listed an executive session to discuss possible litigation and then reconsideration of the 4-1 vote to deny the permit.

Bowman, who is attending the World Food Championships in Las Vegas, and wasn’t at the meeting Tuesday night, learned about the decision immediately afterward from his mother, Pam, who had addressed council on his behalf prior to the vote.

“We have met any and all requirements put forth to us by the city of Cumming’s newly adopted alcohol ordinance,” Randall Bowman said by phone from Las Vegas. “We have met any and all requirements by the state of Georgia. We did everything asked of us and went above and beyond to make this proper and to make it work.”

Que’n in Cumming, which drew about 18,000 people last year, would have been the first event at the fairgrounds where beer sales would be permitted.

Last month, council amended the city’s alcohol ordinance to allow events held there to obtain special beer and wine permits.

Tuesday night, Rupert Sexton made the motion to deny the permit, which was backed by all of his fellow councilmen except Quincy Holton.

During the called meeting, which is a rarity for Cumming, Sexton and Councilman Ralph Perry had both expressed reluctance to issue the permit since the fairgrounds is a family-friendly facility.

“[As it is now], you’re not worried about seeing people walking around drinking or whatever,” Perry said. “And I’m just afraid that if this is allowed, it’s going to blossom out into our fair, so I’m opposed. It’s just the way I feel.”

The councilman’s remarks came despite earlier assurances from Bowman’s mother that her family was taking strong precautions to ensure beer sales would not impede the event’s nature.

Noting that all the paperwork was in order, City Attorney Dana Miles said prior to the vote that there might not be a legal basis to deny the application.

Bowman said he and his family, who live in Forsyth County, were “completely blindsided” by the council’s decision.

“This, if it stands the way it is, will be the end of the National Barbecue Cup in the city of Cumming or Forsyth County,” he said, noting that sponsorships from beer companies and sales would have been a financial boon.

“Without some kind of financial support locally, which alcohol sales would have probably been the key to keep [the event] alive in our community, it will go somewhere else. My family can’t afford to keep supporting it and it’s just not going to work without sponsorships.”

Seeing the event leave his home county is something that Bowman says he doesn’t want.

“Even at a financial loss, I have been willing to keep [the event] in my community because my community matters to me and this is a high stakes-figure economic impact to our community and that means a lot to me.”

He said if the decision remains in place, he will be forced to move the event to another venue. And finding one likely won’t be an issue, he added, since he has been approached by representatives of such facilities as the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, Stone Mountain and Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Inside the barbecue world this is the biggest thing they’ve ever seen, so for it to leave Cumming it would be a shame,” he said.

“[Those other facilities] are all great venues and I would have no quarrel partnering with any of them. They’re as comparable of facilities as what we have, so I don’t have a problem doing that. But I would much rather it be in my own community.”

Bowman made it clear he was talking about future barbecue competitions. If Tuesday’s decision were to stand, there’s not enough time — less than a week — to shift to a new venue.

“I don’t know that we can [relocate] at this late date because logistically it’s pretty hard,” he said. “We don’t have time to get a special events permit for alcohol and everything else at this point [for another venue].

“They [city council members] have now put us behind the gun for timeframes and everything else.”

Reached Wednesday, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt declined to comment on the situation, referring instead to the called meeting Thursday night at city hall.

Bowman was also hopeful the session would result in a change. But he’s prepared if things go the other way.

“We’ll do the best we can to get it worked out and we’re going to roll with whatever happens,” he said. “Unfortunately, if it has to leave Cumming, it has to leave Cumming. I certainly don’t want that. But if I don’t have an option, that’s the only thing we can do.”

 

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