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Restaurants challenge alcohol violations in four hour meeting

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Posted: January 9, 2008 8:55 p.m.
Updated: January 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    In what should have been an ordinary Statesboro Alcohol Control Board meeting turned into a four-and-a-half hour marathon.
    The agenda seemed simple enough. Seven restaurants had been slated to appear before the ACB for ordinance violations, because each had served to an underage patron. In this case, the underage patron was a member of a three person sting operation run by the Statesboro Police Department, utilizing a 19-year old white male, a 20-year old black male and a supervising officer.
    Instead of taking a few minutes with each establishment, though, the meeting ran unusually long as two of the restaurants - Loco's and Retriever's - had legal representation that took up substantial portions of the meeting.
    Ray Frye, a member of the ACB, said the establishments'  representatives simply rehashed old arguments.
    "Well, they argued the same thing they argued before - that [the ACB] doesn't have the right to impose penalties," said Frye. "They're going to give basically the same argument at city council."
    Changes to the alcohol ordinance, made last fall, stripped the authority of the ACB to issue penalties for alcohol violations by license holders. Currently, they can only make recommendations to the city council - similar to the function of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Final punitive determinations are made by the council.
    As a result of the board diminished role in alcohol decisions, it has been rumored that the ACB may eventually be phased out.
    ACB member Nancy Waters feels that while the board may have diminished authority, it nonetheless has marked value to the community. In particular, it gives alcohol license holders a voice, since it is required that two seats on the board be license holders.
    "That's been the real benefit of having the board in place, is that we get to see the situation from the bar owners' point of view," said Waters.
    Some of the arguments from the restaurant operator revolved around the methodology of the sting operation.
    In one instance, at Retriever's Sportsbar & Grill, two of the officers were prevented by the doorman from entering the bar because they were deemed to have inappropriate attire. As a result, only the 19-year old officer was able to enter the premises. While he stated that he was able to be served, the only corroboration from the officers outside was that they witnessed the 19-year old walk by the front door with a beer in his hand.
    Since there was no receipt recorded for the transaction, the lawyer for Retriever's argued this wasn't sufficient evidence to issue the citation - despite the fact the young officer stated he purchase a beverage.
    Management for Retriever's was unable to be reached for comment.
     Dos Primos was on the agenda for a second offense until it was pointed out by an employee that the establishment had last been cited over two years ago. City ordinances state that all offenses must occur within a 24-month period in order for an establishment to be considered a multiple offender.
    Frye explained the confusion.
     "We thought they were a second offense, but when we looked at the previous citation date it was determined that it was a first offense," said Frye. "[Their previous offense] was further out than 24 months."
    Once it was determined that Dos Primos was a first offender, it was recommended that their license be suspended for three days - the standard penalty listed in the city ordinance for a first offender.                                           
     Current city ordinance states that in order to have an alcohol license, the restaurant must serve at least 50 percent food - commonly known as the 50/50 law. As a result, people under the age of 21 are able to enter those establishments which are perilously close to the 50 percent limit.
    ACB member and city councilman Gary Lewis said its time to reconsider the 50/50 law because the current situation allows underage drinkers to get lost in the shuffle of a busy evening.
    "I stand by the statements I made during my campaign. I think we should let restaurants be restaurants and bars be bars," said Lewis. "If we have bars, then they could not let anyone under the age of 21 get in. This would make it easier to police underage drinking."
    Waters isn't ready to abolish the 50/50 law just yet, but said she sees how creating 21-and-over establishments might limit underage drinking.
    "I think it might to be time to consider the possibility, especially if it helps curb underage drinking," said Waters.
 
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