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City report: More than 75 alcohol allegations went unheard by Statesboro City Council
Meanwhile, FBI looking at city's alcohol licenses
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More than 75 alleged violations of Statesboro's Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance, from July 2011 through August 2013, never went before City Council for hearings on the businesses' alcohol licenses. Overlapping that total, 42 alcohol-related citations police issued against individuals in July 2011 were dropped by City Hall officials and never tried in Municipal Court.

Those totals are from an internal inquiry by city staff members that Mayor Jan Moore reported to City Council Tuesday evening.

Earlier in the day, city officials had handed two boxes of records over to an FBI agent who requested Statesboro's pouring license applications and the licenses granted during the past five years. The extent to which the FBI's inquiry is related to the city's, if at all, city officials either do not know or are not saying.

Three-year gap

On Oct. 7, City Council held its first hearings in 3½ years on license holders whose businesses served alcohol to customers under 21 years old. Some council members then asked why the hearings had ceased in early 2011.

"In my opinion, it is hard to believe that more than 75 violations of the City Alcohol Ordinance, over a 26-month period ... could go unheard by the mayor and City Council, and further that the administration appeared disinterested in the due process that had been put forth previously in the Alcohol Ordinance and promised to the citizens of Statesboro," Moore said in her conclusion, which was mostly written on a PowerPoint presentation.

The report, compiled with information gathered by Moore, Interim City Manager Robert Cheshire and City Attorney J. Alvin Leaphart IV, lays a large share of the blame on former City Manager Frank Parker, who was fired by City Council in June for reasons unrelated to alcohol enforcement.

For example, Leaphart, who as hired as city attorney in December 2011, reported that Parker advised him, in January 2012, that administrative hearings had been put on hold while the ordinance was being revised.

"Since the administration had no apparent interest in taking action against the licensees for these alleged violations, I asked the former city manager whether the prosecution of the individual defendants in Municipal Court should go forward," Leaphart said in his written report. This point was summarized in Moore's presentation.

"The former city manager did not think the prosecutions of the individuals should go forward so I dismissed the citations," Leaphart wrote.

In an October phone interview, Parker told the Statesboro Herald that he "was just never in the loop" for reporting alcohol violations to City Council.

"When the police write a violation, it goes to the clerk of the Municipal Court, and then those violations are brought up by city solicitor, which is also the city attorney, and they're dealt with in Municipal Court," Parker had said. "If there's a reason that the solicitor thinks it needs to be taken farther, then they would bring it to City Council."

Michael Graves, who was city solicitor and staff attorney when the last batch of hearings were heard in 2011, handled the cases that way, according to Parker.

City Council terminated Parker's employment by a 3-2 vote June 24 after he told department heads at a staff meeting that he had sometimes met in private with a majority of the council, which would have violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act. He has since filed a wrongful firing lawsuit claiming he acted as a whistleblower.

One point on which the city staff's report on the handling of alcohol violations agrees with Parker's statements is that changes in city personnel may have played a role in the breakdown. The city report lists 10 changes, including those in the city clerk, police chief, city manager and city attorney positions, from 2008 through December 2011.

However, the city report also provides a timeline of four revisions the city government made in the Alcohol Ordinance, in 1997, 2001, 2007 and 2011, tending toward weaker enforcement provisions at each step.

The city's 2011 Alcohol Ordinance, the report concludes, "was drafted by the city manager without the consultation of the Statesboro Police Department or the city clerk's office" at a time "when the city had neither a staff attorney nor a city attorney."

FBI inquiry

The FBI's interest in Statesboro's alcohol licenses was confirmed through a Georgia Open Records Act request to the city earlier Tuesday. After receiving a tip that the FBI had been to City Hall, the Statesboro Herald requested copies of correspondence concerning any FBI inquiry.

Special Agent Stanley Slater, from the FBI's Atlanta Division, had sent City Clerk Sue Starling an email Friday making official a request for "any and all applications for, and licenses issued for the sale of alcohol for consumption on site in the city of Statesboro from 2010 to the present" including "any applications that are pending or were denied as well as any renewal licenses."

Slater's request included a cautionary paragraph about witness or evidence tampering, stating that if any city employees are "threatened, coerced, or persuaded to hinder the production of documents" or to "alter, destroy or conceal" them, they should contact him immediately.

In an email Monday to City Council members, the mayor and all city department heads, Leaphart emphasized that the city was cooperating by furnishing records "deemed relevant by the FBI to the subject matter of an investigation."

Leaphart wrote: "The city is responding to these requests voluntarily to avoid the issuance of a subpoena from a federal grand jury."

He also sent the city officials the text of the federal law against witness tampering and retaliation — which Slater had also cited — and the text of a law against obstructing investigations. Leaphart also forwarded the advice, with Slater's cellphone number, to call him immediately if they were hindered in producing documents or encouraged to alter or conceal them. Leaphart's Monday email said that "further document requests are forthcoming."

Tuesday morning, Leaphart emailed Slater that the two file boxes were ready, and Slater came to City Hall to get them.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

 

 

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