It was the ordinance’s first read by the City Council

Cookeville – Thursday evening, the Cookeville City Council passed an ordinance on first reading that prevents special events with alcohol from being held at Dogwood Park and city-sponsored events and alcohol from being served on all municipal property and streets.

Exceptions include special events inside the Cookeville Performing Arts Center and city-approved events at the Performance Pavilion at Dogwood Park including the Bryan Symphony Orchestra Event, community band concert and Shakespeare in the Park.

Citizens around the county stood and spoke before the council discussed the issue.

Local business owner Kevin Maxwell said he was disappointed with the ordinance.

“I am a property and business owner,” said Kevin Maxwell. “We have an opportunity here staring us in the face. If the city doesn’t appreciate the private money and what we are trying to do here by creating an amazing community, I think we missed the boat here. … I’m a little passionate about this, but I will sit here and look you in the eye and be honest. If this is the way Cookeville is moving, I will invest somewhere else.”

Before a vote on the ordinance, Councilman Erik Walker made a motion to table the amendment for further discussion.

Cookeville Mayor Laurin Wheaton seconded the motion.

“There was an effort to enlist (City Manager) James (Mills) to find a solution, and I think this ordinance goes well beyond that,” said Walker. “I think this ordinance is well overreaching.”

The motion to table failed, 3-2.

“I’m not OK with this ordinance,” said Walker. “We are passing a full-blown prohibition ban on city streets and property.”

Councilman Chad Gilbert responded.

“What we’re doing is responding to our city heads, staff and attorneys,” said Gilbert. “What we have is a dysfunctional ordinance. They (City attorneys and staff) have experienced the burden of this problem.”

Gilbert told the council he believed “leaving bad policy in place in the interim” while searching for answers was unacceptable, but the council should pledge to address other issues later.

Councilman Ali Bagci agreed.

“We need to obligate ourselves to set a date to address these other issues,” said Councilman Ali Bagci. “I think the city as a whole wants to get there.”

For those supporting the ordinance, city-sponsored events were key, and the city is in the position where they must decide which nonprofit can and can’t host events on the property.

Currently, if any nonprofit meeting requirements want to hold an event on a municipal street or municipal property, the city must permit it.

“The concern is there is no way to control who can or can’t (hold an event),” Mills told the Upper Cumberland Business Journal.

That includes extremist groups on both sides.

“That’s not happened,” said Mills. “But there is a concern that it will.”

The ordinance looks to solve that problem, according to Mills.

He says he drafted the ordinance in response to a concern with barricades in Dogwood Park marking areas where alcohol was allowed at events. The council asked him to create a resolution to solve a problem presented by both city attorneys and staff.

Vice Mayor Luke Eldridge made a motion to approve the measure. Councilman Gilbert seconded the motion.

The motion passed 3-2. Councilman Gilbert, Eldridge and Bagci voted to approve, while Mayor Wheaton and Councilman Walker voted no.

With this being a first read, changes can be made to the ordinance before it is heard again. The council agreed they would meet and discuss any concerns before hearing the measure on the second reading.

If approved on a second reading, the ordinance could affect events such as Taste of The Town, WCTE’s fundraiser Blues and Brews and Wine on the West Side, which has been historically held on West Broad Street and Cedar Avenue.

The next City Council meeting will be held January 18, 2024.

Photo via the City of Cookeville Youtube page.

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Ron Moses is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached via email. Send an email.

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