Statesboro’s council members and mayor are considering changes to the city’s Alcohol Ordinance to allow open alcoholic beverages to be carried outside by pedestrians in the downtown area and to allow public officials – potentially including themselves – to hold beverage licenses.
Current requirements of alcoholic beverage laws were one of several topics of information during an April 21 council work session. While comparing several points of the city ordinance to those of state law at the request of council, City Attorney Cain Smith noted that Georgia’s only statewide “open container” law is the one that prohibits open alcoholic beverage containers inside vehicles.
“There is no other state law regarding open containers,” he said. “That’s why you see these open-container exemptions in other jurisdictions. That’s why you’re allowed to walk along River Street with a beer in a plastic cup, because that’s governed by Savannah law and they’ve made the decision to do exemptions, with those restrictions, in that area.”
He also noted that local laws on alcoholic beverages can be stricter, but not more lax, than the state requirements.
A little later in the meeting, Mayor Jonathan McCollar expressed a goal of “opening up downtown Statesboro for open containers.”
Currently, Statesboro makes only one blanket exemption to its ban on people carrying open alcoholic beverages outside in public areas. That policy is for Downtown Statesboro Development Authority-sanctioned events and has so far seldom if ever been used, Smith said.
But City Council also can and has approved open-container permits for specific events at the request of business owners. Through this process, Eagle Creek Brewing Company has received permission to allow drinks, on previous specific dates, in the public parking area in front of the brewpub.
“Outside of a vehicle, it is entirely within the mayor and council’s power to determine how open-container should be governed,” Smith reiterated.
McCollar used the example of someone carrying an open drink from a restaurant to a sports bar and said he wants to create a blanket exemption for an area, yet to be designated, that he called the “city center.” He said his goals are to create a “vibrant” downtown and attract new businesses.
“If we want to bring life back, I think that adults that can buy a drink, we can trust them to walk across the street or walk down a block with an open drink,” McCollar said. “You see this is happening across the board, across the country. This is a best-practice.”
Drinks at sidewalk café tables that belong to a business are already allowed, Smith said. But currently, someone carrying a drink while walking from one business to another could be cited, with a possible fine of around $350, he told the council.
“To be honest with you, the city of Statesboro’s alcohol ordinances are archaic and draconian, and it’s really holding us back in many aspects as far as us being able to have a lively downtown,” McCollar commented.
He said he would direct “staff,” meaning Smith, to draw up the ordinance change. But District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said that direction would have to be given during a regular meeting.
Smith acknowledged that a procedural rule in the city Code of Ordinances states that a proposed revision “shall be brought up as an agenda item at a regularly scheduled meeting of the mayor and council or during ‘other business’ of a regularly scheduled meeting.”
The rule also requires “an affirmative vote of a majority of quorum of mayor and council” to direct the city attorney to draft the revision.
But Smith said he felt that since the work session was being held “in place of a regularly scheduled meeting” a vote to direct him to draft an ordinance could be held.
Boyum objected that it was not a regularly scheduled meeting. After the work session was announced for 4 p.m. April 21, the city issued a notice cancelling the 5:30 p.m. regular meeting that would have followed it.
After further disagreement between Boyum and the mayor over this point, McCollar agreed to place the request for Smith to draft Alcohol Ordinance changes on the agenda for the next regular meeting.
Boyum said he would support requesting the new draft then.
But McCollar also called for a review of the procedural ordinance itself. It was called the Transparency Ordinance when enacted by the council in late 2018. Proposed by Boyum and drafted by Smith, it formalized requirements for a first and seconding reading of a new ordinance, at separate readings, before final adoption.
But as noted last week, it also requires a vote before a first draft is written. The ordinance further provides for the entire procedure to be waived, by a unanimous vote of the council, in emergencies.
Licenses for officials
As Smith compared several points of the state and city laws, another that prompted discussion was Statesboro’s ban on public officials holding licenses to sell or serve alcoholic beverages.
The section in the city code 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.”
“So as of right now, being an elected official, I cannot hold an alcohol license,” asked District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers.
“That’s correct,” Smith said. He noted that the mayor and council not only approve alcohol license applications, but also have the ability to hear appeals of rulings on license violations.
But state law contains no similar prohibition on officials holding alcohol licenses, he confirmed.
District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack, who owns the Glam Bar Salon, expressed interest in lifting the ban.
“As a business owner, owning a hair salon, if I wanted to serve wine to my clients, I feel that I should be able to do that,” she said. “That is something that I was doing before I became city council (person). I had to stop, of course, because of being on the council, but I think that is something that should be looked into as well.”