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Alcohol Board takes Woodin Nikel license

    The Woodin Nikel is once again at the center of an alcohol controversy in Statesboro. In a 4-2 vote, the Alcohol Control Board decided to revoke the license of the Orient Express' owner Ace Amerson, who also operates the Nikel.
    In an investigation headed by the Statesboro Police Department, an undercover officer was sent into the establishment with a hidden camera on two separate occasions – April 12th and 26th. Each night, the officer received three free shots from a bartender at the Woodin Nikel.
    As a result, six separate citations were issued for giving out free alcohol, which is against the city ordinance. All alcohol served must be charged for at or above the wholesale price.
    When Amerson was asked if he intended to appeal to the city council, he said “I’m not. I told the board I’d abide their decision and I’ll take it like a man.”
    He also was offered the opportunity to voluntarily give up his license in order to postpone the hearing and give his lawyer the opportunity to better prepare. Amerson declined.
    An earlier motion was made to consider the six individual citations as two separate violations, considering the violations happened over two nights and there were three instances of the same violation. If the motion had passed, Amerson and the Nikel would have faced only a 30-day suspension of his alcohol license. The motion failed 4-2.
    In other votes, the board unanimously voted to suspend, for 30 days, the licenses of Harvey's on Highway 80 and Time Saver convenience store, on North Main. Both were due to receiving second citations within a 24-month period.
    In a city-wide sting in May, run by the Georgia Department of Revenue – Alcohol and Tobacco Division, a 19-year old investigator was able to purchase a 24-ounce beer from the Time Saver. According to Ronald Huckaby, assistant special agent in charge, the investigator was not asked for ID, asked his date of birth nor his age.
    At Harvey’s, the same 19-year old investigator was able to purchase two, 40-ounce malt liquor beverages from a veteran cashier. According to the general manager's testimony, the cashier had eight years experience and was a fairly stable employee.
    “We knew we were hit one time and we didn’t want it to happen again. I feel we do a good job and [checking ID’s] is not taken lightly” said the manager. “Check ID. Check ID. It’s everyday language."
    Representatives from Harvey's and Time Saver declined comment.
    According to City Clerk Judy McCorkle, anyone who received a suspension will be notified by mail. They will then have five days to notify the city, in writing, of their intent to appeal to the city council or an officer will show up to remove their license.
    Other violators who were caught by the state’s sting in May, were El Sombrero, Fast & Easy, Flash Foods, Gary’s Food Mart, Wal-Mart, Turtles, Jerry’s Minit Mart, Wine Cellar and Longhorn’s. Each of these business was cited with serving an underage customer and was given a warning.
    Huckaby said, “We purposely use underage individuals, who look underage in the opinion of a three person panel. They go in without ID and are required to tell the truth if asked. They don’t even use 20 year olds.”
    The board issued suspensions and warnings, due to the fact that the board no longer has the authority to levy fines. That authority is limited to the city's municipal court, according to state law.
    At the recent City Council meeting, the first reading of the potential new ordinance will remove the punitive authority to issue warnings or suspensions and return that authority to the city council.
    Alcohol Board member, Ray Frye said, "I feel the city council is getting back to micro-managing. That part doesn't make sense. Why do we have an alcohol board?"
    In response, City Attorney Sam Brannen said, "There is a possibility that the Alcohol Control Board will be done away with. A possibility. Somewhere down the line. That's what I personally see."
    As it currently reads, the Alcohol Control Board would only have the authority to grant licenses.
    "Granting licenses is the easy part," Board member Nancy Waters said. "Handling license violations is the hard part. Having license holders on [the board] means there's no tunnel vision. We get to see the problems of the business owners as well."

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