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Statesboro city attorney drafting ‘event center’ permit law at council’s direction
Follows April after-prom party violence, other incidents at places without liquor licenses
event center permit discussion city
Taking part in the May 16 discussion of a possible event center permit ordinance with Statesboro City Council are, left to right, Police Chief Mike Broadhead at microphone, City Manager Charles Penny, also standing, and City Attorney Cain Smith, seated and looking away. (AL HACKLE/staff)

After an April shooting that injured a high school student and other incidents during parties at rented event venues without alcohol licenses, Statesboro City Council is having a city law drafted in an attempt to open the doors of such venues to police and identify responsible persons.

"The city could enact an ordinance requiring event centers that do not have a valid alcohol license to obtain a permit to operate," City Attorney Cain Smith told the mayor and council during their May 16 work session.  "What we're talking about here are these places that conduct either ticketed events or events for hire."

Statesboro's existing code of ordinances refers to "event venues" only in reference to a kind of alcoholic beverage serving license. Event venues that pay for an alcohol license, as a condition of receiving it, already open themselves to inspection by Statesboro Fire Department personnel and to visits from the Police Department.

"I'll be very clear that we're not talking about those establishments," Smith said. "These are just ones that either through ticketed events or through renting out the facility allow events on their property."

Smith came to the work session with a slide show that laid out what an event center permit ordinance for places that do not have alcohol licenses might look like.

During a previous meeting, District 1 Councilmember Phil Boyum complained that places trying to operate as bars without having a license are cropping up again as they did in the past, finding ways around the city's alcohol laws. Last week, Boyum said at first that he didn't think "ticketed events" should be allowed except at places such as the Blue Room – a privately owned music and events venue that does have an alcohol license – and Averitt Center for the Arts facilities.

"Now on the other hand, we have these rental facilities," Boyum said. "These places are pretending to be the Blue Room, they're doing these ticketed events, they don't have the appropriate security, and that's the problem. … This has been a problem for a decade."

Such places, he said, also lack trained bartenders and servers, while establishments with pouring licenses are required to provide Training for Intervention Procedures, or TIPS, for their employees. This is meant to prevent serving people under the legal drinking age of 21 and those who are already intoxicated.

Allowing rented-out facilities to bypass all the requirements is unfair to properly licensed places, Boyum argued. But Mayor Jonathan McCollar noted that some legitimate organizations host ticketed events.

"Well, I don't know about that, and the reason why is because you just killed the Father-Daughter dance, the NAACP event. They sell tickets. They sell tickets," McCollar told Boyum.

Then Boyum said he does not have a problem with organizations selling tickets for fundraising  events.

"I'm talking about these people that have a party they claim is a birthday and then it ends up being a booty throw-down," Boyum said. "They're paying at the door or they're paying for drinks inside."

Then City Manager Charles Penny spoke up, saying the proposal had been placed on the agenda because Chief of Police Mike Broadhead had noted that more event venues have opened recently and expressed concern about "private events."

"When we look at our community, we are now probably up to about five to seven spaces that are now being used for events, and that being the case, the question is if you want to regulate it," Penny said. "If you don't, that's the policy of the council and we'll follow that direction, but we need direction from the mayor and council."

Council members expressed support for key provisions that Smith suggested.  By a 5-0 vote, they directed him to draft a full ordinance for a first reading at a future meeting.

Proposed rules

Smith suggested that event center owners might be charged $25 for an annual permit. That is much less than Statesboro's alcohol license fees.  But he said the more important aspect would be the city's ability to revoke the permit for noncompliance.

• The permit would give the police and fire departments "access into the event in order to inspect for life  and  safety hazards," Smith said.

• It will also require that a person representing the ownership or management be present at every event "and responsible for the safety of everyone who attends," he said.

• Alcohol could only be present if there's a caterer with a special event permit for the specific date and location.

• Events will have to comply with Fire Department occupancy limits or be shut down.

• For private parties, a written contract between someone hosting the party and the event center would have to be signed and provided to the Police Department  at least seven  days  before  the  event.

• The host who signs the contract would also have to  be present at the event.

• Cameras covering the inside and outside of the venue would have be provided to obtain the permit, Smith suggested.

Police position

Broadhead, speaking to the mayor and council, said his main concern was the current inability of police to gain entry to private events before things get out of hand.

"If they don't have an alcohol license, we have the same authority that any citizen has upon entering someone else's property, unless we witness – we have a legal standard of probable  cause – we can make an entry to stop a crime," he said. "Lacking that, we don't have any legal authority to enter a place. They can deny us access."

One recent event that city officials have in mind is the "after-prom" party that was held April 15 at Shuga Shack Event Hall – the same East Vine Street facility previously known simply as The Hall. Two juvenile male teenagers were injured in fighting there that night, police reported.

One of the young men was knocked unconscious by being hit or falling, and the other was shot. Broadhead says these were really separate incidents. The shooting victim, hit in the leg, reportedly required surgery, but went home from the hospital the next week. 

The violence gave police probable cause to enter the premises. But they would have been unable to "get in early to intervene when things start getting a little crazy," Broadhead said in a phone interview Monday.

"So as an example, they don't have an alcohol license there, so they can't have alcohol on the premises," he said. "Well, when we do get in there we find out there's all kinds of alcohol in there. Had we been able to go in and just do an inspection earlier in the evening, maybe we could've headed a lot of that off."

Still no arrests have been made from the April 15 incidents. But police have learned a lot about the background, including that party organizers had a man at the front door patting people down for weapons. But someone left a side door open, and young people started coming in that way, Broadhead said.

Another rented location where some parties drew police attention is a current or former church facility behind Kingdom Cuts Barbershop on East Main Street.

"Some parties were rented out of there, including one which advertised itself as a twerking contest, which erupted into an outside brawl, requiring quite a bit of police response from both us and the county … a few months ago," Broadhead said.

A businessman said to be in the process of buying this location as an event center spoke to the council and said that any event contracts he issues will specify that no alcohol is to be on the premises.

District 3 Councilmember Venus Mack made the motion directing Smith to draft the ordinance, and District 2 Councilmember Paulette Chavers seconded. Mack suggested that venue owners  should want some  regulation but also that the suggested provisions may not be the final form.

"I just can't see as a business owner, someone saying, 'Come wreck my place, come damage, come hurt somebody,'" Mack said.  "I don't know exactly what we should do but I think something should be done to make sure that the people who are attending these events are kept safe."

The ordinance will be presented for a first-reading hearing at a regular council meeting. If voted forward then without significant changes, it could be adopted at a second meeting.

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