One Statesboro City Council member says he thought he was voting on a less-drastic rewrite of the Alcohol Ordinance in 2011.
Two others interviewed didn't go that far, but also suggest that not all council members realized the revision's full contents.
"The way it was presented by the administration at the time, it appears to be different from what was actually passed," Councilman Travis Chance said in an interview last week.
In a recent report, City Attorney Alvin Leaphart concluded that extensive changes in the ordinance approved on Dec. 6, 2011, weakened enforcement. However, two of the key provisions removed then, requiring an Alcohol Control Board and alcohol service permits with criminal background checks for employees such as bouncers, had already been abandoned.
Discussions for the 2011 revision began that summer, before a November referendum allowed Sunday alcohol sales. But changes were not limited to Sunday sales. In an Aug. 2, 2011 Statesboro Herald article, Chance said had said that there were "good aspects of the ordinance" that needed to be kept but that "what is ineffective and convoluted," should be removed.
"That's what I thought we were doing," Chance said this week. "But what was very troubling to me is, from Alvin's interpretation, we did a complete and total rewrite. Well, when I asked what were we changing, we were given a list of items — and you can't expect me to recall what we were given — but it was not presented in a manner as to say, this is a complete new rewrite of the ordinance."
After Michael Graves' departure as city staff attorney in August 2011 and before Leaphart's hiring by City Council that December, Frank Parker, city manager from October 2010 through June 24, 2014, coordinated work on the ordinance. But a response from Parker's attorney, Daniel Snipes, states that Parker did not draft the amendments, instead modifying and removing portions as instructed by City Council.
"I don't know if any of us can really answer that," Councilman Will Britt said when asked whether Parker drafted the ordinance and if he had an attorney's advice.
"It was presented to us in council. We had a couple of work sessions to talk through it, we had a couple of drafts to look at," Britt said. "I know there were some changes made. I'm not sure it was as clear to us what was changing and what was not changing, but essentially the ordinance was made, we felt, a little simpler to understand and simpler to enforce."
He and Chance both mentioned, as an example of the changes that were discussed in 2011, the elimination of an ill-defined ban on serving a pitcher of beer to one person alone at a table. A restaurant owner told the council he could serve 200 ounces of beer in two glasses, but not one 32-ounce pitcher.
But Britt spoke positively of the current ordinance and gave explanations of why the Alcohol Control Board and alcohol service permits were abandoned.
The alcohol service permits, Britt said, meant that about 1,000 people needed to go to the Police Department for criminal background checks and to have IDs made. This created a burden for police, and officials found that few offenses could actually result in a permit being denied, Britt said.
As an elected official, he said, he had reservations about the appointed Alcohol Control Board "becoming judge and jury" with licensees having an appeal to City Council only after the board's decision.
Councilman John Riggs also noted that the Alcohol Control Board stopped meeting in 2009, before he became council member in 2010. He said his understanding is that allowing the board to punish businesses for alcohol violations was illegal.
Riggs did not recall, he said, the criminal background check requirement for employees being part of the ordinance, or its being removed in 2011.
"We asked Frank Parker to simplify the ordinance because so many Band-Aids had been put on this ordinance that in some places it contradicted itself," Riggs said.
But Riggs also said, "I was under the impression that he was just making it easier to enforce, easier to read. I didn't realize that he was actually taking entire sections out. ... A mistake on my part was not reading the entire ordinance."
Riggs and Britt rejected Leaphart's conclusion that if the pre-Dec. 6, 2011 ordinance had been in place and enforced, the death of Michael Gatto at Rude Rudy's might have been avoided.
The premise is that Grant Spencer, the bouncer accused of killing Gatto, could not have been employed there. But Riggs noted that Spencer was reportedly off-duty.
"Spencer wasn't working that night, so the alcohol ordinance wouldn't have been able to stop that," Riggs said.
Britt said: "I don't think anything negative has occurred because of the way the ordinance is written. I do think the ordinance is very functioning. The ordinance the way that it is right now does function. I think there are some questions in there, but it clearly states that certain things are illegal."
He noted that several businesses have been brought to the council with violations over the past two months. The problem, Britt said, has been with enforcement.
Councilman Gary Lewis declined to be interviewed. Councilman Phil Boyum was not on the council in 2011.
After a first reading, unanimously acknowledged on Nov. 15, 2011, the council unanimously approved the amendment Dec. 6, 2011, not as a separate item, but along with other items on a consent agenda.