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Statesboro's alcohol ordinance back on tap for Tuesday
License holders invited City Council work session
City of Statesboro seal

This time, Statesboro City Council has specifically invited people who sell alcoholic beverages to discuss the proposed replacement of the city's alcohol law.

As with previous discussions, no exact time has been set for Tuesday's work session, except that it will follow the 9 a.m. regular council meeting.

The city sent a letter to all 80 or so active license holders, said City Clerk Sue Starling.

"If you have any questions or concerns about this matter, please consider attending this work session," the letter, dated July 28, says.

It describes the topic as "changes to the city's alcohol ordinance." City Council actually has in hand a draft of a new ordinance, developed by City Attorney Alvin Leaphart with input from police and other city officials.

The proposed new Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance, which in its original version runs to 31 printed pages, has provisions based on the alcohol laws of Savannah and other cities.

Because the workshop is a public meeting, it is open to anyone, not just license holders. The draft ordinance is available at City Hall.

As drafted, the ordinance would scrap the "50 percent rule" requiring that restaurants that serve alcohol get half their revenue from food — except that a similar rule would still apply, under state law, to those that serve on Sundays. For the city's purposes, Leaphart and the council are considering whether there may be simpler ways to determine that a business qualifies as a restaurant.

Following a recent change in state law, the new ordinance would also abandon a distance requirement between the university and grocery stores that sell beer and wine.

But the sections that have drawn the most attention so far give city officials authority to suspend licenses or place businesses on probation. In contrast, the existing ordinance made enforcement "all or nothing," Leaphart told council members at previous meetings.

The current city law also lacks a provision to revoke licenses for problems such as public disorder in and around a bar. At the June 3 work session, Leaphart said this left the city powerless in cases such as the 2012-13 gun violence at two now defunct nightclubs.

At that same meeting, Public Safety Director Wendell Turner called a new ordinance "absolutely past due."

Following the Aug. 19, 2012, shooting death of Akeila Roschell Martin, 32, at the Platinum Lounge and the Nov. 10, 2013, killing of Johnnie L. Benton, 25, at the Primetime Lounge, and the wounding of another person in each incident, the city had both clubs shuttered. But to obtain the orders last fall from the Bulloch County Superior Court, the city cited its own lack of enforcement power.

So that the city might act on its own in the future, the proposed ordinance has subsections titled "Order required within establishment" and "Order required outside establishment." It also includes a city "drunk and disorderly" law for all public places.

An extension of the previous six-month moratorium on new alcohol licenses for places shut down under court order is on the agenda for Tuesday's 9 a.m. regular meeting. Contacted Friday, Leaphart said the extension is needed because the moratorium approved in March will soon expire, the new ordinance has yet to be adopted, and a court order permanently closing one of the clubs applied only to its owner at the time.

Scheduling Tuesday's work session with the intent that license holders be invited, council members asked that the regular meeting be kept short. No vote on the ordinance will be taken at this point.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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