Shenanigans at 1 University Plaza will lose three days of alcohol sales and afterwards will admit only customers age 21 and up for at least a year, under an agreement reached Tuesday during a City Council hearing. The three days are technically part of a 10-day license suspension, but with the other seven days waived unless another violation occurs.
Alcohol enforcement dominated the regular 9 a.m. council session, which lasted more than three hours before other agenda items were postponed. Three council members, a bare quorum, attended, with members Gary Lewis and Will Britt absent. A story about cases involving five other business locations will be published separately.
Shenanigans owner Jason Franklin appeared on two simultaneous hearing notices, which alleged a second and a third Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance violation within 12 months. One Shenanigans bartender served beers Sept. 10 to two women, both ages 18, and a different bartender served beers Sept. 19 to two other women, ages 18 and 19, according to the Statesboro Police Department.
Franklin’s attorney, Michael Classens, asked for a continuance of the council hearing on Franklin’s alcohol license until after the bartenders’ misdemeanor criminal cases can be heard in court. Those cases, according to Classens, are scheduled for a first appearance Nov. 9.
“There is virtually no way that Mr. Franklin can properly present a defense to these charges while those cases are still at this very early stage,” Classens said. “The most recent of these events just occurred on Sept. 19.”
As police confirmed, Classens had been provided videotapes Monday afternoon from the two undercover actions. He said he spent three and a half hours that night viewing them but had not had time to review them with his client.
Meanwhile, the bartenders who are awaiting trial in court have constitutional rights to be protected, Classens said. He also noted that neither he nor the city had subpoena power to compel witnesses to appear at the administrative hearing.
“The point of our position is that Mr. Franklin is in no position to make a fair defense, fairness being part of due process, this being a due process hearing,” Classens said.
But City Attorney Alvin Leaphart noted that the administrative license hearings involving business owners and their employees’ criminal cases for serving to underage customers are separate. He argued that one does not hinge on the other.
The debate on whether to continue the hearing to another council session at a later date continued for more than 45 minutes.
Phone call question
At one point, Mayor Jan Moore asked Classens and Franklin whether they had spoken to council members about the case before the hearing. Classens said he had not.
“Yes, I’ve called a couple of councilmen, and I just asked them, ‘Have y’all tabled this in the past, and they said not they know of, but they said that it could be tabled. They were just speaking for themselves,” Franklin said.
“I don’t know that that’s particularly appropriate. Is it?” Moore asked Leaphart.
“It’s not the done thing to try to communicate with the tribunal outside of the hearing,” Leaphart said. “I’m sure Mr. Classens is aware of that. He wouldn’t have done that.”
Noting that Moore referred to the hearing as a “quasi-judicial proceeding,” Classens argued that the city’s process confuses people about the role of council members.
Moore said she brought it up because of some calls she received.
“I got several phone calls that it had already been determined by council that this was to be continued because of conversations that Mr. Franklin had had with council,” she said. “And so, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t ferret that out and find out if that was the case, because if that was indeed the case then I think we have a problem.”
Franklin, who had been placed under oath, testified that he had called council members Travis Chance, John Riggs and Will Britt.
“There was nothing determined, nothing decided, and I didn’t talk about the case,” Franklin told the mayor. “I didn’t know that was wrong. I’m sorry.”
Riggs acknowledged that they spoke, and said he welcomes calls.
“I encourage anyone to call me about anything,” Riggs said. “Jason, I’m glad that you did call me. I did not promise you anything, didn’t tell you I would do anything for you. I told you I would see how it turned out today, just like I tell everybody. I have never told anybody that ‘Yes, I will vote so-and-so tomorrow.”
Both Chance, who was called, and Councilman Phil Boyum, who was not, objected to Moore doing what Boyum called “vetting a rumor.”
“Mayor, I think it’s entirely opportunistic and a little bit inappropriate to assume, just by a phone call being made and rumor being told to you, that a decision was already made,” Chance said.
Franklin had asked Chance whether council had ever done a continuance, and Chance said he didn’t know, he reported. “I said, the best thing I can tell you is, get Michael Classens or whoever your attorney is to ask for it. Whatever council does is what they do,” Chance said.
Franklin, still under oath, agreed that is what Chance told him.
Moore asked if council members had a motion to continue the case until the first meeting in November. Chance said he was ready to move on with the case.
Statesboro Police Lt. James Winskey led the presentation. Sgt. Patrick Harrelson of the department’s criminal investigation bureau had coordinated the undercover operation.
The four young women were employed by the police for the task and wore video recording devices. Three of the four testified Tuesday, and Winskey and Harrelson testified about the fourth. All had presented their own ID’s with their correct ages at the door, where the ID’s were scanned and they were issued wristbands that they wore, purple on Sept. 10 and green on Sept. 19, marking them as underage, according to testimony.
However, when they ordered beer, they were served anyway, the three young women testified.
Classens also questioned the young women in front of the council.
Following hearings with the five other businesses in the meeting that began at 9 a.m., the Shenanigans hearing stretched until lunchtime. Then the question arose of whether the videotapes would be viewed. These reportedly lasted about 90 minutes from each of the two nights, with long stretches as the women stood in line.
With Classens hinting that he would insist on viewing the videos, Moore suggested a recess at 12:01 p.m.
After the 10-minute break in which they conferred with police, Classens and Leaphart approached Moore, and the meeting resumed with a proposed settlement.
Franklin agreed not to contest “the imposition of a sanction as if for a third offence,” Classens said. This, he explained, would be a 10-day suspension, but with seven days waived on the condition that when the club reopens Monday, it will not admit anyone under 21 years old for at least the next 12 months.
If any other violation occurs during that year, the seven-day suspension will be imposed, separate from any other penalty.
The three council members unanimously accepted, and the three-day suspension begins at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
In an email to the newspaper, Moore said her intent in asking about Franklin’s calls to council members had been to clarify what happened.
“Any concerns that were communicated to me were put to rest by Mr. Franklin and council, and it doesn't appear that any communication that he had with council was inappropriate, and that council responded to the communications in an entirely appropriate manner,” Moore said. “I apologize if my intent to clarify was misconstrued as anything other than that.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.