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Establishments no longer to be fined for violating alcohol ordinance
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    Some major changes appear to be in store for Statesboro’s alcohol ordinance after city officials discovered they were exceeding their powers in punishing violators.
    At a work session Thursday, the city council learned the Alcohol Control Board does not have authority to fine violators of the ordinance as they have done since its inception. That power is only granted to the city’s municipal court, according to state law.
    “Why have we not caught this until now?” said Joe Brannen, who also serves as one of the two city council members on the alcohol board.
    City Clerk Judy McCorkle told him they modeled their ordinance after others in the state that also included fines. Those other cities have since quit using fines.
    “Rome quit. Hinesville quit. Now we’re in the process of quitting,” said city attorney Sam Brannen.
    Under the city’s current ordinance, a first violation of the alcohol provisions within a two-year period results in up to a $1,000 fine. A second offense carries a fine of up to $2,500 and a 30-day suspension of a business’ alcohol license. A fine of $5,000 and a 90-day suspension is the punishment for a third violation. Any violations after that subject the establishment to possible revocation of its license.
    “Obviously we need to get into compliance with state law,” said City Manager George Wood.
    Georgia law grants city governments, or their designated representatives such as the Alcohol Control Board, the power to suspend or revoke alcohol licenses for breaking the city’s ordinance. The council discussed three options as to how to best move forward from here.
    The first would have the Alcohol Control Board hold all the hearings on potential violations and impose a suspension of the license if it was found the law had been broken. The second would have the hearing before the city council for a determination and the third would call for a hearing in front of the ACB, but they would only recommend a course of action to the council. The council would then hear the case again and make their decision.
    After some deliberation among the council members, they appeared to decide the second choice was the best route to take.
    “I’d rather they come straight to the elected officials and let us make the decision,” said councilman Will Britt.
    And because the council would no longer be able to fine an establishment for violating the ordinance, another punishment had to be determined. The council agreed to suspend a license for three days on a first violation within any three-year period. A second violation would result in a 10-day suspension, a third would yield a 30-day suspension and a fourth violation would result in a 90-day suspension.
    Currently, the city has more than a dozen due process hearings that need to be heard. Those will be heard under the current rules, but because a fine can not be imposed, any of those establishments who currently have a hearing scheduled will not be subject to any penalties for a first violation. However, if it is a second or subsequent violation, a suspension is possible under the old guidelines.
    The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its August 7 regular meeting. If it's approved then, as expected, it would be voted on a second time at the August 21 meeting and take effect then.
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