This week, Statesboro City Council heard input from owners and managers of drinking establishments on the new Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance now in the works. Council members also suggested forming an alcohol advisory board with license holders as members.
Waiting outside the council chamber before Tuesday morning’s work session on the ordinance, Nathan Queen, the general manager of Retrievers and part owner of Dingus Magee’s, expressed something he later told the mayor and council, that he wishes the city would decide on a set of rules and stick to them.
“This alcohol ordinance has changed, in the 10 years that I’ve been running, and now owning, a portion of a business, 10 to 15 times — I don’t know how many, too many to count — and a lot of times in the ordinance, it contradicts itself,” Queen said.
The work session was open to the public, but the city sent letters to the approximately 80 alcoholic beverage license holders, including owners of supermarkets and convenience stores as well as restaurants and clubs. About 10 licensees or their representatives showed up.
City officials don’t deny the ordinance has been amended repeatedly. At one point Tuesday, Councilman John Riggs suggested that if license holders found that an aspect of the new ordinance does not work, it could be amended again.
“We can change this stuff,” he said. “If we put something in there that it looks like, well, gosh, this is injuring my business or is —”
“No, no, don’t say that,” Councilman Phil Boyum interjected. “The whole purpose of going through this process is so we don’t have to change it every six months.”
Out by 1:45 a.m.
As drafted, the new ordinance keeps the 1 a.m. last call for establishments to stop serving drinks but would impose a new 1:45 a.m. time for all customers, and anyone who is not an employee, to be off the premises. The existing ordinance allows drinks purchased by 1 a.m. to be consumed until 2 a.m. at the latest but doesn’t state that everyone must leave.
The 1:45 a.m. clearing time prompted some comments from owners and managers. Queen stated that he sometimes allows a number of patrons to stay until they can get rides home to prevent driving under the influence. South City Tavern General Manager Zane Cress said his establishment doesn’t do this but calls on taxis and bus services to offer safe rides home.
Some council members said 1:45 a.m. might be the time to have everyone out but have enforcement start at 2 a.m.
Mayor Jan Moore commented that the city isn’t really trying to restrict the sale of alcohol anymore but to provide a safe framework for fun and business.
“This police drive by and wink and say ‘It’s OK’ is going to be harder and harder to do as you grow, and so you’ve got to come up with some sort of framework that will allow for growth but also allows for management,” she said.
Statesboro police Maj. Scott Brunson agreed that judgment calls will be involved. But he also said police have an interest in the closing times being clear.
“We needed a rock-solid closing time, and I think we’re good on that, and this ties back to the closing time, the folks inside after hours, and I’m going to stick with that,” he said.
Another feature of the proposed ordinance that drew some discussion from license holders is a $1 minimum drink price. This is part of a section that limits drink specials. Another rule prohibits giving alcoholic beverages away for free, except limited amounts of wine at a tasting or beer samples in connection with the sale of growlers, which are large lidded containers of draft beer.
Reduced prices after 11 p.m., two-for-one drink offers and games that award alcoholic beverages as prizes also would be prohibited, but most of these rules are already in place.
The $1 minimum seems to be price fixing, Queen said, and he and other representatives of the businesses said they already are subject to a state law prohibiting retail sale of drinks for less than the wholesale price.
Queen said he thinks the city simply could track the state law on all but a few points.
“I get what they’re trying to do, and I respect and appreciate them trying to make Statesboro a very, very safe place,” he said. “I want my children to grow up in a small town where everything is safe…. But the state law is very easy to understand, and it’s consistent.”
Statesboro City Attorney Alvin Leaphart drafted the proposed ordinance with input from Statesboro police and with Savannah’s and other cities’ alcohol laws as models. He has said that consistency is part of what it accomplishes.
“I think if we look at the alcohol pricing, I think we can get that ironed out,” Leaphart said Tuesday.
Another provision that prompted discussion would prohibit employees from dancing with customers or sitting at tables with them.
“I understand the reason why it’s there, for strip clubs and things like that, but now you’re telling me it’s unlawful for one of my servers to go sit at a table and talk to customers,” said Daniel Calhoun, the general manager of Wild Wing Café. “See, it’s not clear enough.”
He and some other managers said servers often sit down at customer tables. Leaphart explained the rule is intended to prevent “the old-fashioned practice” of certain employees mingling and asking customers to buy drinks for them.
Council members invited license holders to submit suggestions for changing the ordinance before it is adopted. It is now proposed to take effect July 1, 2015, Leaphart said.
Riggs asked license holders if they missed the old alcohol control board. After hearing a “No!” he said that such a board no longer could exist, because it could have no legal authority.
“So, what I’m thinking about is an alcohol advisory board, and it would be run by you guys,” Riggs said, adding that it would make suggestions to City Council.
He suggested “people who actually sell and deal with alcohol” as well as someone from law enforcement serve on the board. Other council members suggested adding other citizens.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.