By AUTUMN HUGHES
The man behind efforts to place a package store referendum before Cleveland voters describes himself as “a local taxpayer” who cares about growing the tax base and moving the city “into the 21st Century.”
The man behind efforts to place a package store referendum before Cleveland voters describes himself as “a local taxpayer” who cares about growing the tax base and moving the city “into the 21st century.”
The question of whether or not to permit retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages within city limits will be put to city voters on the Nov. 6 election ballot.
“It’s been an issue for me for 27 years ... that’s how long I’ve lived in Cleveland,” said John Sheehan, who organized the successful petition drive to put the issue before city voters.
Sheehan, who said he is an individual in this effort and not part of any larger group, said people are going into counties outside of Bradley (a dry county) to spend money at package stores. He believes there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue because there are no package stores in Cleveland.
“It’s a very big windfall for our city” if the measure passes, he said.
Sheehan said he has been thinking about organizing a petition for two years but about eight months ago he was doing business in Polk County and saw a sign for a package store there. He stopped in and made his purchase – he said he paid a high price and realized that in Bradley County, stores “could sell the same product for a whole lot less” and still generate revenue.
He started working on gathering signatures near the first of November 2017 along with “half a dozen interested friends who assisted me in that effort.” To meet requirements to be on the ballot, Sheehan had to get 824 signatures — that number represents 10 percent of the number of city voters in the last gubernatorial election.
In all, more than 1,300 signatures were turned in. While not all were verifiable as belonging to city residents registered to vote, there were enough to meet the requirements, Sheehan said.
To collect signatures, Sheehan and his helpers went door to door in neighborhoods and to local businesses asking for participation. Sheehan estimated 95 percent of the people he asked were willing to sign the petition.
“That’s the consensus among everyone who was gathering signatures,” he said, noting others who collected signatures told him that was their experience.
“Many people said, ‘I don’t necessarily agree with drinking,’” but were of the opinion Cleveland shouldn’t be losing revenue to other cities, Sheehan said.
Sheehan said he also met people who were opposed to having a referendum, but added that “I never had anybody act inappropriately.”
Sheehan works in the health care business – he owns and operates nursing homes and pharmacies across Tennessee – and he is also a residential real estate developer. His Ocoee Foundation Inc. awards scholarships to local students, and he spearheaded development of the Cleveland Dog Park.
Sheehan said with Cleveland already having liquor-by-the-drink sales in restaurants, wine sales in grocery stores and beer sales at stores and eateries, allowing package stores is a logical step.
“This is the last piece of liquor sales the city of Cleveland does not have,” he said. “It only makes sense for us to have what every other surrounding county has.”
Sheehan also said he is interested in adding to his business portfolio if the package store referendum passes.
“I fully intend on opening a very nice store … the city would be proud of,” he said.
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