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Citizens voice concerns at public hearing over drinking laws
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    Between 50 and 60 people showed up at the public hearing held by Statesboro City Council on Tuesday evening to voice their opinions about proposed modifications to the city’s alcohol ordinance.
    At their first meeting in October, the council passed on first reading ordinance changes that would create three separate alcohol license categories — restaurants, taverns and bars — and disband the Alcohol Control Board.
    Eighteen people spoke at the meeting including pastors and representatives from Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church, Ogeechee River Baptist Association, Gracewood Baptist Church, Bible Baptist Church, Emit Grove Baptist Church, Willingway Hospital, Statesboro Church of Christ and the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council. Aside from emotional appeals and personal testimonies, the majority of the speakers were against the changes, with only two speaking in favor of the proposals.
    Lee Mitchell, deacon at Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church, said the proposed ordinances changes would be unenforceable.
    “We need to enforce the current laws instead of changing them to suit the offenders. There is simply no justification for creating bars and tavern classifications or abolishing the ACB,” Mitchell said. “Passing these changes would amount to letting the tail wag the dog.”
    Marion Fletcher said it is far easier for underage kids to get access to alcohol at house “pool parties” than it is for them to drink at a local establishments. He said his son works as a bartender in Athens and was given a $250 ticket because the bouncer forgot to check one person’s identification.
    “In Athens at least, the bar owners and bar employees are extremely careful about serving alcohol to underage people,” Fletcher said. “(Statesboro) is a college town and a lovely town and it will be that whether we have bars or not.”
    Bob Claxton, owner of Heritage Video, said he is against bars being allowed in the downtown area because he is concerned about the safety of his college-aged employees who sometimes bring equipment back to his shop late at night.
    “If there are bars (in) downtown, I can’t do that anymore. I will not do that to the young people that work with me — it is not safe,” Claxton said. “I will move my business out of (downtown) if that’s the kind of environment we’re having to confront day in and day out.”
    Mayor Bill Hatcher expressed his appreciation for all the people who were in attendance. He said he feels these changes will model Statesboro after Hinesville, which is a military town with a very different demographic. He also said that Atlanta parents who send their children to Georgia Southern will view the city differently if these changes are enacted.
    “Those parents look to Statesboro as a Main Street, clean, healthy, safe place to send their children,” Hatcher said. “It troubles me to think we’re going to leave that and I believe if we enact this that is what we’re going to have.”
    The council will vote on the second reading of these ordinance changes at their next meeting, Dec. 16, along with some related adjustments to the zoning ordinance. Should they pass the second reading, the changes will become law.

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