To allow for larger cups and bring the West District into the designated area, City Council delayed a formal first-reading vote Tuesday on letting people of legal drinking age carry alcoholic beverages outside in downtown Statesboro.
Three changes in the city’s Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance were slated for first readings. But of those, only a loosening of restrictions on alcohol permits for for-profit special events was voted forward to a second reading. The proposed elimination of Stateboro’s ban on elected officials obtaining licenses to sell alcoholic beverages was also held over for revision.
To be clear, the proposed “open container” exemption allowing paper and plastic cups of beer, wine or mixed drinks in public spaces downtown would apply only to people age 21 and older walking or otherwise not inside vehicles.
Originally, the draft presented by City Attorney Cain Smith designated the area bordered “on the north by Courtland Street, on the west by Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, on the south by Cherry Street, and on the east by Mulberry Street.” But when the council met in a 4 p.m. Tuesday work session, Smith noted that the West District, a still developing, mixed commercial and residential center along the west side of South College Street, had not been included.
After input from council members, the version Smith described during the 5:30 p.m. regular meeting extended the exempt area southward, between MLK Drive and West Main, to Bulloch Street, taking in the West District.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum then requested that the maximum size cup be increased from the 16 ounces in Smith’s original draft to 20 ounces.
“Twenty is kind of the standard red Solo cup size,” Boyum noted.
Other council members said they were OK with this change.
If the proposal is approved, businesses licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption in the defined area will be allowed to serve drinks in paper or plastic cups “for removal from the premises.” Customers could then legally possess no more than one cup each in outdoor public spaces, only in this part of town.
The Georgia law prohibiting open alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles would remain in effect.
Smith advised the mayor and council that the changes in cup size and defined area were substantial enough that the proposal should be presented for a new first reading at a future meeting.
Licenses for officials
That was also the conclusion reached, after lengthier discussion, on the evolving proposal to let elected officials obtain licenses to sell alcoholic beverages in Statesboro.
Going into Tuesday’s meeting, the proposal had been simply to eliminate the subsection in the city Code of Ordinances that states: “No license shall be granted to any city, state or federal employee or official whose duties include the regulation or policing of alcoholic beverages or licenses or any tax-collecting activity.”
Smith noted that this provision was added to Statesboro’s Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance with changes approved by the then-mayor and council in 2016. Many of those changes were modeled on the alcoholic beverage laws of consolidated Athens-Clarke County.
But the Athens-Clarke ordinance prohibits licensing any public “employee” responsible for regulating, policing or taxing alcoholic beverages, where Statesboro’s wording expanded this to any “employee or official,” Smith said.
In his research, the only other Georgia local government Smith found with a similar rule was Clayton County, where the county government’s own elected and appointed officials and employees are prohibited from holding alcohol licenses. But it does not apply to officials at other levels of government.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar reiterated his point from a previous meeting, that Statesboro’s rule prohibits not only the city’s elected officials, but any state or federal official, from holding an alcoholic beverages license in the city limits. Smith agreed that this would also apply to county officials, since counties are political subdivisions of the state.
Noting that Statesboro has 81 alcoholic beverage licensees, McCollar said that least that many individuals are prohibited from running for office if they want to maintain their licenses. He recommended eliminating the subsection.
But Chief of Police Mike Broadhead asked to speak to the mayor and council before they took any action.
“Just for your consideration as you’re looking at this change in ordinance, I would ask you to continue to specifically prohibit city police officers from having alcohol licenses in the city limits,” Broadhead said. “I think ethically that’s too much of a problem for us on the enforcement side.”
Smith suggested that this might be achieved by removing the words “or official” but leaving the rest of the subsection intact. It would still prohibit employees, such as SPD officers and other city staff members involved in regulating and taxing alcoholic beverages, as well as employees of state and federal agencies that regulate alcohol, from obtaining a license.
But this small revision would, by Smith’s interpretation, allow elected officials to get licenses and current licensees to run for office. So as of Tuesday night, that was the way the revision stood, pending a new first reading.
Special events permits
The one change approved on a first reading – but still requiring final approval at another meeting – would broaden the types of businesses allowed to get temporary permits to serve alcohol for-profit at special events.
These permits are for locations not otherwise licensed to serve alcohol, and a special state permit is also required. Only a few cities in Georgia allow this at all, Smith had noted, and Statesboro has previously limited the permits to licensed caterers.
The proposed new wording states: “For events with less than 200 total people present any business holding an occupational tax certificate in a Bulloch County jurisdiction may apply. For events with more than 200 total attendees present only businesses holding a City issued catering license may apply.”
The deadline to apply for a permit would also be shortened to 21 days before an event, from the current 45 days.
But all of Statesboro’s rules for businesses that serve alcohol, including an insurance requirement, would also apply to these special events.
District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers’ motion for first-reading approval passed 4-1, with Boyum voting “nay.”