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Possible new alcohol rules in council’s hands

Would empower city manager to suspend licenses

Possible new alcohol rules in council’s hands

Possible new alcohol rules in council’s hands

A draft for a new Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance would give the city of Statesboro more options for dealing with bars and other establishments that foster crime or break the rules.

When Tuesday's 9 a.m. regular City Council meeting lasted until noon, officials postponed the work session on the topic that had been slated to follow the meeting. However, City Attorney Alvin Leaphart had given council members his draft for a thorough revision of the city alcohol law.

"The purpose of redrafting the ordinance is to give the City Council a needed level of flexibility to regulate the licensing of alcohol sales within the city," Leaphart told reporters.

The past two years' violence at two now-closed nightclubs motivated some of the key changes he is proposing.
Johnnie L. Benton, 25, was killed, and Jamal Heard, 21, seriously injured when shots were fired around 2:30 a.m. Nov. 10 at the Primetime Lounge on Northside Drive West. Shots had been fired, without reported injuries, about 90 minutes earlier at the Platinum Lounge on Proctor Street, the same club where Akeila Roschell Martin, 32, was killed and another woman wounded in an Aug. 19, 2012, shooting. Police continue to investigate both homicides.

The city obtained a Bulloch County Superior Court order in November to shut down both clubs.

"We realized we needed to revise our alcohol ordinance so we could act when there were crisis-like situations," Leaphart said. "There were other issues, too, that we were looking at along the way, but that did sort of bring it to a head."

Under the existing ordinance, the mayor and council can suspend or revoke a license, but this requires a hearing before the council. The new version Leaphart proposes would give the city manager authority to suspend a license for up to 30 days "pending a hearing and action by the mayor and City Council."

Savannah's ordinance, unlike Statesboro's, does give its city manager authority to suspend a license immediately, and Savannah's manager recently used it after shots were fired at a bar, Leaphart noted. The temporary suspension power should relieve Statesboro officials of having to turn to the Superior Court, he added.

Among many other provisions, the draft ordinance would also allow probationary terms short of a revoking a license.

City Council did revoke the Primetime Lounge's license in January after Superior Court testimony revealed falsehoods in the owner's application. Then, on March 4, council voted a six-month moratorium on new alcohol licenses for previously licensed locations shut down by court order.

At that time, Leaphart had said that the moratorium would give the city time to make appropriate changes in the ordinance.

But also in March, Superior Court Judge John R. Turner made his order closing the Platinum Lounge permanent. The judge prohibited the owner, Hayward Arthur Fields, from reopening the club or any similar business at the same location.

Previously, Leaphart had said the council should enact a new alcohol ordinance in August for it to take effect in January. However, he said Tuesday that, as he now understands the situation, the new ordinance could take effect more than a year from now.

"I'm not sure when it would be adopted, but it would probably go into effect July 1, 2015, so we've got some time to take this draft, have all the councilmen look at it, get their input, get further input from the staff and get input from the community also," Leaphart said.

The postponed work session will probably be held with the first council meeting in June, officials said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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