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Council poised to appoint special judge
Will preside over alcohol license violation hearings
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After amending the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance in March to turn hearings on license violation cases over to an administrative judge, Statesboro City Council has a proposal on Tuesday's agenda to appoint Tom A. Peterson IV, an attorney from Vidalia, for the task.

The regular council meeting begins at 9 a.m.

In a letter provided to the council, Peterson said he will charge the city a flat fee of $850 for each court day lasting up to five hours, including two hours of expected round-trip travel time. For any time spent on the work outside the five-hour limit, "such as drafting orders of my findings of fact and conclusions of law or appeal responses in contested matters," he said he will bill the city $185 per hour.

City Manager Randy Wetmore and City Attorney Cain Smith told Peterson they expect the administrative court to meet about six times a year, or once every two months, he wrote.

"It also seems that Wednesdays are the best day of the week to hold court, so I propose holding court on the last Wednesday of the month," Peterson wrote to Mayor Jan Moore. "If the Council and you agree, the Council could vote to begin holding hearings as early as the last Wednesday of this April."

Wetmore noted an expected annual cost of $5,100 to the city's legal services budget. But costs could go higher with higher than anticipated workload, he wrote.

Under the ordinance amendment, the administrative judge will take the council's place in hearings on alleged occurrences that can lead to suspension or loss of a business' alcohol license. Council has handled these hearings, sometimes at length, during one of its two meetings each month.

License holders will still have an appeal to City Council, but only in written form in response to the judge's written ruling.

Alleged criminal violations by individuals, such as bartenders and store clerks who provide alcohol to customers under age 21, will continue to go to the regular Municipal Court.

Peterson also took a special assignment on Statesboro's behalf in 2014, when he conducted a council-ordered investigation into whether council members and a former city manager had violated the Open Meetings Act. This stemmed from statements made by former City Manager Frank Parker, whom council fired by a 3-2 vote in June 2014.

Peterson found insufficient evidence of improper meetings to turn the matter over to the state attorney general's office. The city's liability insurer later paid $120,000 to settle a wrongful firing suit brought by Parker, with no admission of wrongdoing by either side.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.


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