By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Faultline emerges over liquor store rules
McCollar says he’ll veto unless number of shops limited; Boyum says limit would inject ‘politics’
W McCollar Jonathan 2018
Mayor Jonathan McCollar

Mayor Jonathan McCollar said Tuesday that he will veto any liquor store-enabling ordinance that does not limit the number of these “package shops” that can open in Statesboro, but District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum argued that would be the wrong approach.

With no city law or regulations drafted in advance, 74% of voters in a Nov. 2 referendum agreed to let the council and mayor license liquor stores in Statesboro for the first time in living memory. So, City Attorney Cain Smith delivered information on the relevant rules of other cities across Georgia during Tuesday’s 3:30 p.m. work session. During that session, three council members – Boyum, District 4’s John Riggs and District 5’s Shari Barr – directed Smith to prepare an ordinance including only the basic state requirements as a framework to which further local rules can be added.

During the 5:30 p.m. regular council meeting that followed, McCollar announced that he and Mayor Pro Tem Paulette Chavers, the District 2 council member, will assemble a list of community members for an “ad hoc committee” that will provide input on the rules to be included in the final ordinance. They plan to present the names of the committee members at the next council meeting, at 9 a.m. Dec. 7.

“There needs to be a limiting on the licenses. I don’t want to see an alcohol store on every corner,” McCollar said during the work session. “And so I’m going to tell you, I’m going to veto anything that does not have a limited number of alcohol package stores on there. We have to do what’s responsible, and I’m concerned that we’ve been thinking too much about the time line, instead of good policy, and I think that it’s important for us to take our time.”

Maybe 90 days

He went on to say he didn’t mean the process should stretch “four, five or six months down the line” but that the elected officials need to be “extremely deliberate” in how they craft the policy.

“The people waited decades for us to get to this space, and so if it takes 90 days in order for us to get this policy correct, that’s absolutely fine,” McCollar said. “But what I don’t want to do is put bad policy in place that adversely affects the most vulnerable people in our community … especially when you’ve got a city with a poverty rate above 50 percent and we recognize that there are issues where we’re talking about drugs and alcohol addiction within this community.”

That came while Boyum repeatedly expressed his intention that Smith should move forward with its standard procedure for adopting an ordinance after directing Smith to draft one with “minimum state requirements” as a starting point.

The city’s procedural rules require two public readings, at subsequent regular meetings, of a proposed ordinance or amendment before the council votes to enact it. Those rules require a hearing only at the

first reading. If substantially unchanged, a proposal can then be enacted after the second reading without a new hearing. But any substantial change to the proposal would require another hearing.

Boyum’s objection

“You mentioned limiting licenses,” Boyum said. “When you do that kind of thing you also limit opportunity and play into the hands of the very wealthiest and most connected people in this community.”

boyum current 2021
Phil Boyum

McCollar said Boyum was putting words in his mouth, that he hadn’t said this. In turn, Boyum said he hadn’t said anything about a timeline, either, and that his last remark had not been directed at the mayor.

The policy that emerges should allow small business and minority business owners “the opportunity to break into this field,” McCollar said.

Population based?

Asked Wednesday what he thinks the right number of liquor stores would be, the mayor said this is one thing he and the council need to take their time in determining.

Some Georgia jurisdictions included in Smith’s survey base the number of licenses issued on population.

For example, Macon-Bibb County allows a maximum of one liquor store per 2,800 residents, based on the most recent census. If Macon’s rule were applied here, Statesboro, with 32,000 people, could have up to 11 liquor stores. But Covington allows only three liquor stores for its first 25,000 people, then one additional store for each additional full increase of 5,000 people. In Statesboro, that would produce a limit of four stores.

There are also ways of setting limits based on market demand, McCollar said.

“Some it’s market-based, some it’s based on population, so I want to have this discussion and figure out what do we believe will be the best for the city of Statesboro,” McCollar said. “You know, right now I’m tentatively leaning toward population-based, but if we find that the market is the more responsible situation, then that would be the way we need to go.”

Boyum, when asked whether he wants to simply adopt the minimum state requirements as the local ordinance, said he thinks some localized rules are needed.

“I think there are some reasonable local accommodations that would fit for our community,” he said. “For example, state law says you can keep the liquor store open to 11:30 (p.m.), but clearly anyone coming into a liquor store after 11 o’clock has probably already been drinking. I think 10 o’clock is a reasonable hour to close.”

Some other rules might cover “aesthetic” aspects, or stores, such as prohibiting barred windows, he said

“However, I have a real resistance to putting a limit on the number of license holders, because then it becomes a political process in how we pick those people, and alcohol has been a political problem in this community for a long time,” Boyum continued. “I have no plans to write an ordinance that is going to continue that political tension. Liquor is a business. … We don’t put a limit on the number of convenience stores, the number of restaurants, and there’s no reason to put a limit on the number of liquor stores.”

Consumer demand, he said, will limit the number of stores.

A majority of the Georgia cities that Smith surveyed, including Savannah, Pooler, Dublin, Valdosta, Albany, Warner Robins, Johns Creek, Milledgeville, Americus, Columbus and Rome, defer to state law with no specific provisions outside of state law and local zoning.

Placing limits on the number of licenses issued is a fairly new development among Georgia’s local governments, Smith told Statesboro’s mayor and council early in Tuesday’s presentation.

“When that happens, you have to ensure that they’re properly sized and stocked to fill demand, you have to establish population milestones for grant of additional licenses upon population growth and also address the inevitable discrepancy between the number of licenses allowed and the number of applicants,” Smith said early in Tuesday’s presentation.

McCollar has said that the community committee will include representatives of substance abuse prevention and treatment organizations, law enforcement and the business community. Anyone interested in nominating themselves for the committee should contact City Clerk Leah Harden at City Hall, McCollar said, but he hoped to limit it to 10 or 12 members.

Although the committee is to be announced at the Dec. 7 meeting, Smith was directed to bring the framework ordinance to a work session two weeks after that.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter