Statesboro City Council recently extended its moratorium on processing new alcoholic beverage licenses for the former Platinum Lounge and Primetime Lounge locations by another six months. But this time, the vote was not unanimous.
The motion at the Jan. 21 council meeting from Councilman Phil Boyum, seconded by Councilman John Riggs, also came without a definite recommendation from City Attorney Alvin Leaphart. He noted that he had spoken to some council members about the renewal individually, but said he was leaving the decision to the council.
Even without a moratorium, Bulloch County Superior Court orders would forbid the former club owners, and anyone representing them, from opening new alcohol establishments at either location.
“We do have court orders in place that may get us where we need to be if we rely on the court orders to, in effect, carry out the terms of this moratorium,” Leaphart told the mayor and council.
But the moratorium bars anyone, not just the former club owners and their representatives, from opening a business that serves alcohol at either of the two locations.
The Platinum Lounge, at 2 Proctor St., was the scene of the fatal shooting of Akeila Roschell Martin, 32, on Aug. 19, 2012.
On Nov. 10, 2013, Johnnie L. Benton, 25, died after being shot at the Primetime Lounge at 608-C Northside Drive W. Shots were fired again that same night outside the Platinum Lounge. The city then obtained temporary injunctions from Superior Court and padlocked both clubs.
Another person was wounded the night of each fatal shooting, and both killings remain unsolved.
At Leaphart’s urging, the council enacted a six-month moratorium March 4, 2014, to give the city time to develop and enact a new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance. In August, the council extended the moratorium for six months, through next week.
The ordinance has yet to be completed.
Under the current ordinance, the city clerk issues licenses to applicants that meet basic legal requirements, without a council hearing to evaluate the applicant or the location.
“The moratorium was more or less put in place to support the decisions of the Superior Court in their permanent injunctions they granted and to make clear to the staff the terms of those orders,” Leaphart told the council. “The moratorium has been in place a long time, probably longer than a moratorium is supposed to be in place.”
Council members Gary Lewis and Will Britt voted against the six-month extension.
One of the court orders resulted from a judge’s verdict. The other reflects a settlement.
In December 2013, a hearing before Court Judge John R. Turner revealed the existence of two different lease documents for the Primetime Lounge.
One, used with the license application, listed Karen Pittman Brown as the business’s owner. The other listed Eurl Kittles as the leaseholder.
Mark Anderson, a partner with Bulloch Properties LLC, which owns the building, testified that he leased it to Kittles and had not dealt with Brown. When shown a lease agreement containing Brown’s name as owner, Anderson said he had never before seen the document and that the signature on it was not his.
Brown and Kittles admitted that Brown sought the alcohol license in her name because Kittles had a record of suspended license offenses and feared he would not be granted an alcohol license. They said in court that Kittles retained 90 percent of the club’s profits.
On the basis of the false representation of ownership, City Council unanimously revoked the Primetime Lounge’s alcohol license on Jan. 7, 2014.
Not reported in the aftermath of this order last year, the court case involving Primetime concluded in a March 24 settlement signed by Leaphart for the city, and Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel (now Totten), as well as attorneys for Brown, Kittles, and Bulloch Investors LLC. Turner issued a judgment the next day adopting the settlement as an order of the court.
Although Bulloch Investors was named as a party to the settlement, the limited liability company and Anderson, whose testimony helped reveal the apparent deception, were not named in the sections where Brown and Kittles surrendered certain rights.
The former Primetime owners agreed to “forever forfeit all rights or privileges in obtaining an alcoholic beverage license from the City of Statesboro.” They could apply for an occupation tax certificate for a different kind of business only if City Council agreed to waive another part of the agreement.
In the separate case involving the Platinum Lounge, Turner issued a ruling March 3 declaring the club a public nuisance as a scene of repeated illegal activity escalating to violence.
Turner permanently enjoined the club’s owner and operator, Hayward Arthur Fields, and his company, HAF Enterprises LLC, from operating any business “licensed to serve alcohol for consumption on the premises;” or that “operates a sound system that amplifies live or recorded music,” or is open between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The judge’s order also prohibited Fields from allowing any “employees, agents, tenants or attorneys-in-fact” from doing these things as well.
Richard T. Zalinsky submitted an application Oct. 7 for a license to serve beer, wine and liquor drinks at a “restaurant/bar” he proposed to call the Farm House at 2 Proctor St. On the basis of the moratorium, city officials declined to process the application.
Information on the Bulloch County Board of Tax Appraisers website identified J&A Fields LLC as owner of 2 Proctor St.
At the Jan. 21 meeting, Councilman Lewis asked if the city would still cooperate with the court’s rulings if the moratorium were allowed to expire.
“Yes, sir,” Leaphart answered.
Lewis then asked whether, under the court order, the 2 Proctor St. property would no longer be barred from getting a license if Fields sold it to a new owner who “checks out, clear.”
“It would have to be a bona fide transaction, an arm’s length, for consideration paid, sale,” Leaphart said.