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New alcohol ordinance takes effect Friday
Bars allowed in Boro; owners required to keep order
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Statesboro’s new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance, most provisions of which take effect Friday, requires that owners of bars and restaurants maintain order in and around their establishments or risk probationary measures or revocation of their licenses.

But the ordinance gives City Council more flexibility, instead of prescribing license suspensions for certain numbers of violations, as the old ordinance did. These were points Mayor Jan Moore and City Attorney Alvin Leaphart emphasized last week when a renewed discussion of the ordinance with bar and restaurant owners focused on a section that restricts drink specials.

“One of the very best things about this ordinance is it doesn’t have mandates in it where penalties are concerned, so if we see that something in the ordinance isn’t operating as intended, we don’t necessarily have to penalize that particular license holder for that, but we can make adjustments to it,” Moore said.

After more than an hour on the topic at the June 21 council meeting, members left the ordinance to take effect just as it was adopted on March 15. But the section covering specials and drink pricing is being referred to the new Alcohol Advisory Board, which could recommend changes to the council.

 

Advisory board

The council appointed the six members of the advisory board last week. They are lawyer Matt Hube, 40 East Grill co-owner Woody Pumphrey, catering service owner Schubert Lane, Georgia Southern University Dean of Students Patrice Buckner Jackson, CORE Credit Union  loan officer Jim Thibodeau, and lawyer Laura Wheaton.

Hube was Moore’s appointee, and the others are listed above as appointed by the individual council members in order from District 1 through District 5. The advisory board has no authority to impose penalties or change the ordinance, only to advise the council.

Already referred to the board’s attention is Section 6-16, “Alcohol promotions; pricing of alcoholic beverages.” It prohibits giving alcohol away for free, selling any drink for less than $1, or selling or offering anyone “two or more alcoholic beverages during any set period of time at a fixed price,” or selling two or more drinks for the price of one.

These last provisions were meant to prohibit “two for ones” or “three for ones,” Moore said. “Or a bladder bust,” Leaphart added, referring to a kind of volume-drinking special.

Another provision prohibits selling drinks after 11 p.m. for prices less than those charged the general public during the day. Another bans games that award alcoholic beverages as prizes or have as their “primary purpose … increasing consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

Leaphart noted that some similar rules were in the old ordinance, and that this passage had been modeled on one used by Athens-Clarke County.

Midtown Bar & Grill owner Michael Cash asked whether the rules would prohibit one person from buying drinks for several friends sharing a table. Moore said she didn’t read it that way, but as prohibiting multi-drink specials.

“I think the intent is, you pay for each drink,” said Councilman Phil Boyum. “But it is a little ambiguous because it almost sounds like, you can’t buy two drinks at a time.”

 

No happy hour?

Business owners suggested that an apparent ban on “happy hour” specials will have unintended consequences.

“The American way is, when you buy in quantity, you get something for a little cheaper,” said Gnat’s Landing owner Al Chapman. “That’s what I’ve always known in any restaurant I’ve worked in in the last 20 years.”

If the ordinance prohibits volume specials, such as selling pitchers for less per ounce than single drinks, restaurants will instead offer big cups as a standard size, he said, “which promotes binge drinking, which is what we’re trying to (eliminate).”

A state law that prohibits retailers from selling alcoholic beverages for less than their wholesale price was mentioned as a factor that could make the city pricing restrictions unnecessary. Chapman and other owners described the profit motive as another, noting that they are not in business to lose money.

Leaphart said he had been unable to make this part of the ordinance any clearer and that it may address contradictory aims. The council could simply abolish the pricing restrictions and hold restaurant and bar owners responsible if specials promote overconsumption, he suggested.

“The real issue is safety, and the real issue is underage drinking, and what this ordinance has is a duty to maintain order in and around your establishment,” Leaphart said. “We haven’t had that in our prior ordinance. So if bad things started to happen at your licensed establishment, like alcohol poisoning, people being unconscious … sexual assaults, you could just revoke the license on the actual harm that’s occurring in and around the establishment.”

Moore said she didn’t feel comfortable eliminating pricing restrictions entirely.

Lawyer Bob Mikell, who represents some of the restaurant owners, suggested simplifying the rules by requiring a “commercially reasonable” price. Increasing the minimum drink price to $1.50 was also suggested, with some business owners indicating support.

Then Moore assigned the issue to the new board.

“Since we do have our Alcohol Advisory Board, it may be a good time to kind of give them the record on this, let them look at it,” she said. “A couple of lawyers are on it, and a restaurant owner is on it. Maybe they can come up with some language to recommend.”

 

Other provisions

Effective Friday, bars can be bars in Statesboro, if restricted to patrons age 21 and up. Restaurants with appropriate licenses can still serve alcohol to those 21 and over but admit younger customers for meals until 11 p.m., or later if certain conditions are met.  The rule that required every place that served alcohol to make 50 percent or more of its money from non-alcohol items has been eliminated.

Businesses are now paying higher annual alcohol license fees, an added $500 or more in most cases, to fund a new Statesboro Police Department alcoholic beverage control officer.

Advanced Patrol Officer Eric Short, who besides serving with the SPD patrol bureau was previously was a code enforcement officer for the city, was recently appointed to the new position.

“As a matter of fact, he has already been working and meeting with some of our licensees, and he will be the point of contact,” said interim Police Chief Robert Bryan. “He’s going to be working with a lot of folks ensuring the success of the new ordinance.”

Bryan has been telling business owners that the police want to work with them to make sure everyone understands the ordinance, and won’t cite them for violation of minor points right away.

“Our goal is to work with the licensees and everyone else to ensure success of, A, the program, but, B, of everyone involved, and, C, making sure the ordinance is implemented as effectively if it can be,” he said. “If there’s anything we see as hiccups along the way, then we can bring those to the council. “

Also part of the ordinance, training requirements for bartenders, bouncers and managers will take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

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

 

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