After almost two years of looking at a new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance without adopting it, Statesboro City Council held a work session last week and has another planned for Tuesday at 5 p.m.
This means the council will meet twice in one day, since its first regular meeting of February is Tuesday at 9 a.m. The work sessions were proposed to bring new council members Sam Lee Jones and Jeff Yawn up to speed and to hear further public and staff input before a vote on the ordinance.
As the year began, Mayor Jan Moore said that a first reading of the ordinance could be held Feb. 16, meaning it could be voted on in March. But now Moore isn’t predicting whether the ordinance will reach its final form that soon.
“We made a lot of progress at the last work session, and I personally was very happy to see the group working together toward making that kind of progress,” Moore said Wednesday. “But we still have a little ways to go on a few issues that weren’t brought up at the last work session.”
So “it’s a very real possibility,” she said, that more than Tuesday afternoon’s session will be needed before City Attorney Alvin Leaphart crafts the final ordinance.
The mayor and council received Leaphart’s first draft of a replacement for the current Alcohol Ordinance in May 2014. After several drafts and discussions, the council has yet to adopt any part of it.
Bars vs. restaurants
As currently drafted, the proposed ordinance distinguishes between restaurants on the one hand and bars, nightclubs, bars and lounges on the other. Patrons under 21, the legal minimum drinking age, would be prohibited from any “bar, night club, lounge or similar business.”
Younger patrons would be allowed in restaurants that serve alcohol, at least until 11 p.m. or until the kitchen closes, under different versions that have been discussed.
The formal recognition of a 21-and-up bar category will be new for Statesboro, where all pouring licenses so far have been issued only to “restaurants” and “sports restaurants.” Ordinary restaurants have been required to get at least 50 percent of their income from food and nonalcoholic beverage sales. Sports restaurants can count cover charges as well as food toward the required 50 percent.
The proposed new ordinance would eliminate the 50 percent rule.
Instead, the police chief or someone the chief designates would review each licensed business to determine whether it is a restaurant or a 21-and-over establishment. The decision would be subject to appeal to the city manager and ultimately to the mayor and council.
The officials would consider several factors, such as whether alcoholic beverages make up than more than 40 percent of a business’ annual sales, but this alone would not be decisive. Other factors would include the use of bouncers, and whether a place is open after midnight.
An alcohol advisory board, which would make recommendations for licenses or penalties for violations, was discussed as an added feature of the ordinance. It had been mentioned previously, but was not in the printed draft.
Councilman John Riggs said he supports having an advisory board rather than a control board.
Statesboro’s Alcohol Control Board ceased to meet by 2011, and was eliminated with changes to the ordinance adopted in December of that year. Members who were on the City Council at that time, such as Riggs, have said they were advised that the elected council could not delegate its authority to make the decisions to the appointed board.
However, Leaphart observed that some Georgia cities use boards or administrative hearing officers to make alcohol license decisions.
“Then I just want to say that I was lied to by former city managers and former city attorneys and other people that that was illegal, what the Alcohol Control Board was doing, and you’re telling me it was legal,” Riggs said to Leaphart at the Jan. 19 session.
“I’m not that familiar with how it worked,” Leaphart said. “There may have been some things they were doing that were outside their legal authority to do.”
But the existence of such a board was not illegal, as long as applicants and licensees could appeal its decisions to the City Council, Leaphart said.
Yawn, the new council member from District 3, once served on the Alcohol Control Board, but was no longer on it when it dissolved.
“Having served on it, our understanding was that the City Council could always reverse a decision that we made,” Yawn said.
Leaphart suggested an advisory board that would conduct hearings and send recommendations to the council for a final ruling. The Planning Commission’s authority on zoning works the same way, he noted.
Under the existing alcohol ordinance, the council holds hearings about any alleged license violations. But the city clerk reviews applications and issues licenses. If the clerk denied a license, the current ordinance provides no appeal to the City Council, but state law demands an appeal process.
“The state law requires that our ordinance have something that we don’t have,” Leaphart said, in answer to a question from Moore.
If passed, the new ordinance would take effect July 1, officials have said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.