Statesboro City Council began 2016 with the swearing-in of three members, two of them new. But an old issue, alcoholic beverage regulation, was back on the agenda Tuesday and will be for several upcoming meetings.
Before the meeting ended, the council scheduled work sessions for Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. and Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. on the proposed replacement of the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance. A first reading of the ordinance in its final form is slated for the Feb. 16 regular meeting.
“Hope springs eternal,” Mayor Jan Moore commented while council members were sorting out the meeting times. “I do believe that might make the two-year anniversary of discussion of this particular topic.”
A draft for the revised ordinance was discussed in May 2014, after City Attorney Alvin Leaphart had worked on it for some months.
‘Politicians and diapers’
Shortly after Tuesday’s meeting opened at 9 a.m., Bulloch County Probate Judge Lee DeLoach administered the City Council oath of office three times over. New District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones put his left hand on the Bible held by his wife, Margaret. Also brand new to the council, District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn was assisted in the little ceremony by his wife Megan. Their three children, ages 6, 8 and 10, were there, as were other family members.
Returning for a third term, District 5 Councilman Travis Chance took the oath while his wife, Shannon, held the Bible in one hand and their 16-month-old daughter on her other arm.
“Politicians and diapers need to be changed often, and for the same reason,” Chance quipped after the meeting, deploying a quote he credited to President Ronald Reagan. It’s often attributed to Mark Twain or other sources.
Anyway, Chance said he is excited about having two new members on the council.
“It’s a great opportunity for some new blood,” he said. “I think the former councilmen did the best job they could, and I look forward to seeing what kind of job the new council members do.”
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum and District 4 Councilman John Riggs are the other two continuing members. They needed no swearing-in because they are now in the middle of their four-year terms, as is the mayor.
Alcohol hearing, again
As part of Tuesday’s meeting, the council held an administrative penalty hearing on a violation of the city’s “50-50” rule by Rusty’s Tavern. When a restaurant derives more than 50 percent of its revenue from alcoholic beverages for two consecutive quarters it violates the ordinance, and Rusty’s Tavern self-reported exceeding the limit in the second and third quarters of 2015.
Local lawyer Bob Mikell stood with Joshua R. Ledford, licensee of the tavern at 15 University Plaza. Police Detective Lt. James Winskie reported that Ledford was pleading guilty to the violation. It isn’t a crime but a strike against his alcohol license.
His reports showed 52 percent of sales from alcoholic beverages in the second quarter and 51 percent for the third quarter, Winskie said. With Rusty’s classified as a “sports bar,” cover charges were counted as part of food sales.
Last fall Ledford voluntarily turned Rusty’s Tavern into a 21-and-over establishment. He has had all employees obtain Training for Intervention Procedures, or TIPS, certification to recognize overconsumption and underage drinking, Mikell said.
Additionally, Ledford closed Rusty’s Tavern the weekend of Georgia Southern University’s fall graduation to avoid exceeding the 50 percent alcohol level for the fourth quarter, his attorney said.
In November, the council had suspended Farid Gharachorloo’s license for the club called Moonshiners, off Lanier Drive, for three days over a similar 50-50 rule violation. But the previous month the council had imposed a three-day suspension of Gharachorloo’s license for neighboring Gata’s Sports Bar & Grill over a second-offense of serving alcohol to patrons under age 21.
In Ledford’s case, there had been no violations of any kind in more than four previous years, Mikell said, asking that it be considered a first offense, meriting a one-day suspension or a warning.
“Mr. Ledford would also like at this time to urge council to seriously consider the proposed ordinance and adopting some type of regulated bar category for those 21-and-up,” Mikell said.
The council unanimously held Rusty’s Tavern in violation, but also unanimously issued a warning instead of a suspension. Boyum made the motion, seconded by Riggs, for the warning.
During the “other business” portion of the meeting, Boyum called for the council to act soon to adopt the new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance. Most versions of the ordinance discussed last year would abandon the 50-50 rule, at least for places that are designated bars or nightclubs and keep out everyone under age 21, the legal drinking age.
“It’s time to get back to this Alcohol Ordinance,” Boyum said. “We’ve got two new councilmen up here and it’s time to move forward with that. Obviously, it’s creating confusion in the community, and it’s time to put the whole thing behind us.”
Boyum’s preferences for the ordinance include creating a bar category, with no 50 percent requirement, for places admitting only patrons 21-and-up and not open on Sundays. He also said he wants the council to consider having restaurants that serve alcohol go “21-and-up” when they stop serving meals for the day.
Moore recommended a work session to bring the new members up to speed on the ordinance, and the council wound up scheduling for the three upcoming meetings. Chance suggested afternoon meetings to give members of the public more opportunity to attend.
The 4 p.m. Jan. 19 work session will occur before the regular 5:30 p.m. meeting that day. The 5 p.m. Feb. 2 session puts the council meeting twice that day, since the regular meeting will be at 9 a.m.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.