By Eric Holcombe:
“Former Knox County Law Director John Owings surprisingly showed up at last week’s depositions.” Owings, now in private practice, told Howard he represented Forging Ahead, a pro-liquor advocacy group, which is not a party in the lawsuit.
Owings, who was law director on Knox County’s controversial “Black Wednesday” in 2007 that involved Open Meetings Act violations, is special counsel at the Knoxville firm of Robertson, Overbey, Wilson and Beeler.
State Sen. Doug Overbey, whose 2nd District encompasses parts of Sevier County, is a partner in that law firm. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in Pigeon Forge’s liquor politics.”
Doug Overbey claimed in a state Senate primary debate with Scott Hughes that he had nothing to do with getting Pigeon Forge liquor by the drink (LBD) back on the ballot again (earlier than it should have legally – state law is two years) or involvement with other representatives to bring this before the state legislature. At one of his debates with Scott Hughes, both were given the opportunity at the end of the debate to ask any question directly of his opponent. Scott paused and asked Doug if he had anything to do with getting the Pigeon Forge LBD referendum legislation passed in Nashville or getting it back on the ballot early. Doug completely denied it.
I think these City of Pigeon Forge commission meeting minutes from February may have been the source of Scott’s question. See the press release at the end. Somebody knows who was asked to get this issue on the ballot. They know authority figures that are aware and participated and are giving them an opportunity to do the right thing (which has yet to happen). Montgomery and Overbey didn’t want to be associated with bringing this back, so other representatives in the house and senate had to run bills or allow amendments to their bills for this to take place. At one time it was Ryan Haynes and he received some public pressure to drop it. There are a number of legislative prostitutes in Nashville who have done the dirty work for representatives in the past. Kind of like “ghost voting”, they take care of their own.
At any rate, we now have Doug Overbey’s business partner John Owings inserting himself as an advocate for a liquor lobby, Forging Ahead, in the midst of depositions for this lawsuit. Recent reports now claim that Owings has requested to appear before Chancellor Telford Forgety to “assist the court in consideration of this matter”. I am not sure why a liquor lobby needs to assist Forgety in voiding a ballot initiative where illegitimate voters participated. I assume Doug would still claim no involvement, but it sure seems like this liquor lobby formed awfully fast. I wonder if any of those “1%-owners-of-bankrupt-Belle-Island-just-in-time-for-the-referendum-and-then-sell-it-back” folks are part of the lobby? This lawsuit may have opened some cans of worms that weren’t expected.
On another Sevier county liquor front, I have been watching to see if Andrew Farmer sells his liquor store in Gatlinburg. It is against state law for a liquor store owner or someone that has any direct or indirect interest in a liquor store to hold public office. Apparently, listing that in your candidate disclosure wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the TNGOP. Overbey, Montgomery, Harwell and the status quo in Sevier County endorsed Farmer and in the case of Harwell and to a much lesser extent, Haynes, donated a lot of money to him. The local newspapers ignored this liquor store ownership during the election cycle. It was brought up in multiple debates they attended and was rather embarrassing for Farmer who was trying to sell local boy family values and Sunday school attendance, but for some reason it wasn’t newsworthy.
TCA section 57-3-210 is a problem for public office holders having a connection to liquor wholesale/retail sales. The damning text: “No wholesaler’s or retailer’s license shall be issued to a person who is a holder of a public office, either appointive or elective, or who is a public employee, either national, state, city or county. It is unlawful for any such person to have any interest in such wholesale or retail business, directly or indirectly, either proprietary or by means of any loan, mortgage, or lien, or to participate in the profits of any such business“.
This law is why Andrew had to sell the business before taking office. He “sold” the liquor store to his wife – that he just married this summer. This apparently is an attempt to satisfy this law.
Here is the link to the October 26 meeting agenda for the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. See item #3. Here are the meeting minutes where it passed. See item #2. Andrew created a new corporation in September called AMCH Inc. at the same address as the former liquor store owner (A E Farmer Inc. at his law office address) and he is the agent of this company also. Note that this change occurred after the Republican primary when his ownership of the liquor store was brought to light. The ABC minutes indicate that his wife has purchased the business from him as AMCH Inc. They were just married this summer during the primary campaign. “Here honey, sign this paper….”
So, Andrew created a new corporation, “sold” the liquor store to his wife, and now apparently will claim no indirect interest in a liquor store that is owned by his wife. The ABC may appear o.k. because they didn’t issue a liquor license to a public office holder – however they did transfer it to his wife, knowing he was a candidate for public office whom had already won the primary election. I don’t believe Andrew can claim he has no indirect interest in the liquor business, but he can claim he does not hold a retail liquor license. So, Harwell, Overbey, Montgomery, Haynes, et al got their lawyer liquor store owner in. As the state Republicans like to crow “it matters who leads”…