Statesboro City Council is slated to return to the familiar topic of alcoholic beverage regulation Tuesday morning with two proposed ordinance amendments, including one submitted by a restaurant industry lobbyist.
Since January, first the appointed Alcohol Advisory Board and later the elected council have looked at proposals to allow young adults ages 18-20 into bars. Some of the proposals would also eliminate Statesboro’s process of having the police determine whether a place is a restaurant or a bar and instead adopt the state’s minimum definition of a bar as a place that gets 75 percent or more of its revenue from serving alcoholic beverages.
While generally blocking people under the legal drinking age of 21 from bars, “Michael’s Law,” a Georgia law in effect since 2016, allows 18- through 20-year-olds in for live music and art performances with an admission charge.
A Statesboro ordinance amendment that would have adopted this state law, with some added local provisions, was defeated on a 3-2 council vote July 17 after Councilman Phil Boyum suggested an alternative. He proposed five categories of pouring licenses: for bars, event venues, pubs, restaurants and businesses with low-volume drink service, such as salons.
When a draft of Boyum’s proposal was given a first reading during a special July 25 council meeting, Mike Vaquer of The Vaquer Firm LLC in Savannah spoke, saying he represented the Georgia Restaurant Association. Franklin Dismuke, owner of Eagle Creek Brewing Company, the brewpub in downtown Statesboro, was with Vaquer and had invited him.
“We … would like to ask that you hold on adopting this and give the restaurant community some time to work with your staff and the legal department to fine-tune some of this language,” Vaquer said. “We certainly understand that your goal is to try to control access for 18- to 21-year-olds in establishments that sell adult beverages. That is a commendable goal.”
He and the Restaurant Association worked with the city of Savannah on this issue for about four years, first in Savannah’s adoption of an alcoholic beverages ordinance and more recently on a revision approved this year, he said.
Vaquer also was “somewhat one of the architects of Michael’s Law and the provision that allows 18- to 21-year-olds to have access to bars as long as there is live entertainment and a cover charge,” he said.
Having looked briefly at Statesboro’s proposals, Vaquer saw that they contained some similar language but also “some inconsistencies,” “some confusing provisions” and “an incomplete provision,” he said.
Vaquer said he and restaurant owners would not be trying to stall the ordinance’s adoption “but trying to move it forward as rapidly as possible.”
Not an attorney
Boyum publicly thanked Dismuke for bringing in Vaquer. At first, Boyum referred to him as an attorney, but Vaquer is not an attorney. The Vaquer Firm is a Savannah- and Atlanta-based governmental affairs consulting and lobbying firm. He represents other clients, such as Chatham Area Transit and the Savannah Airport Commission, in addition to the Georgia Restaurant Association.
“I cannot even tell you how long I have recommended that the restaurant owners, bar owners … bring in an attorney of their own to address their concerns,” Boyum said.
After mentioning his input on Michael’s Law, Vaquer said, “I will correct one thing. I am not an attorney, but I do help write the laws.”
Boyum asked Vaquer to help get a revised proposal ready for a second reading by the Aug. 7 meeting. Statesboro officials have been trying to put the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance amendments behind them before Georgia Southern University starts fall semester, Boyum said.
Since the Jan. 1 consolidation with the former Armstrong State University, Georgia Southern has campuses in Savannah and Hinesville, as well as Statesboro. Mayor Jonathan McCollar has repeatedly noted this in calling for the city to change its ordinance and allow students 18 through 20 years old into places where entertainment is offered but alcohol is served to those 21 and over.
“We’ve looked at the Savannah ordinance because there’s concern about students going to Savannah,” Boyum said. “Well, to have an ordinance that in some way mirrors Savannah but does the things that we need here in Statesboro would be great, and it’s nice to have an expert.”
Two options again
But what appears on the agenda, released Friday, for Tuesday’s 9 a.m. regular council meeting is not a single ordinance amendment.
Instead, Boyum’s proposal, Ordinance 2018-06, is listed for a second reading and consideration of a motion, after a public hearing and first reading of a proposal from Vaquer, labeled Ordinance 2018-08. City Attorney Cain Smith did not help draft this version, and Vaquer is slated to attend Tuesday’s meeting to discuss it, Smith said in answer to questions Friday.
The Ordinance 2018-08 draft contains the same definition of a bar as Boyum’s proposal and also defines event venues. But Vaquer’s proposal does not contain Boyum’s definitions of a restaurant as getting 70 percent or more, and a pub 40 percent or more, of their revenue from the sale of prepared meals. These categories are not part of Vaquer’s draft, and there are other differences.
Not just Dismuke, but other Statesboro restaurant owners were having input on Vaquer’s work, Dismuke said after the July 25 meeting.
”I don’t think that everyone felt comfortable with the last measure that was about to be voted on last time, so what we want is for everybody to feel comfortable and everybody to be on the same page and for it to be easily understandable both for us and for the Police Department and the city,” Dismuke said.
Another item on Tuesday’s agenda is consideration of a resolution for a Nov. 6 city referendum under the state “Brunch Bill.” The law enacted this year allows alcoholic beverages to be served in restaurants as early as 11 a.m. on Sundays, with local voter approval.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.