Two stores, including the biggest store in Statesboro, have their city licenses to sell beer and wine suspended for seven days beginning Thursday. Another two stores, including one unit of America’s second-largest drug store chain, have their alcohol licenses suspended for 15 days.
The difference is based on the number of violations for selling beer or wine to underage customers at each location during the past five years. Each store will also remain on probation, in regard to its alcohol license, for a period of months.
Statesboro City Council approved the suspensions Tuesday morning under a new practice, in which the license holders or their representatives signed consent orders without actually standing for hearings before the council.
“You saw how quick these hearings were versus what we’ve had before, so it’s made it a much more efficient process,” interim Police Chief Robert Bryan said after Tuesday’s meeting.
These were also the first administrative punitive actions against businesses under the city’s new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance, most elements of which took effect July 1. The new ordinance allows city officials to look back at violations during the past 60 months. Under the previous ordinance, as amended in December 2011, officials could look back only 12 months.
All four businesses had employees cited for selling beer or wine to a customer under age 21 after compliance checks Nov. 2 by the Statesboro Police Department. These were done using an undercover buyer under the legal drinking age, Bryan said.
For Walgreens, at 613 Northside Drive East, this was this third violation for sale to underage customers within five years, according to Bryan’s report. He noted citations issued there Jan. 22, 2015, and March 28, 2013, also by the SPD.
City Council unanimously approved the consent order suspending Walgreen’s alcoholic beverage license beginning 8 a.m. Dec. 8 and concluding 8 a.m. Dec. 23.
Clyde’s No. 76
The Nov. 2 citation against an employee of Clyde’s Market No. 76 at 17874 Fair Road was the convenience store’s third violation in five years. Statesboro police also issued a citation there March 3, and the violation before that was recorded Aug. 20, 2014, by the Georgia Department of Revenue, Bryan reported.
Making separate motions and seconds for each store, the council unanimously approved the consent order suspending the alcoholic beverage license of Clyde’s No. 76 beginning 8 a.m. Dec. 8 and concluding 8 a.m. Dec. 23.
This is the Clyde’s in the northeastern quadrant of the intersection of Fair Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway. No other Clyde’s stores are affected.
But both Walgreen’s and Clyde’s No. 76 also agreed to be on probation for one year. The conditions include “full and strict compliance” with the ordinance and a promise that all employees who sell alcohol will have completed Training for Intervention Procedures, known as TIPS, or other city-approved training by Feb. 8. New employees are to receive the training within 30 days of hiring.
The largest store in Statesboro, the Walmart Supercenter at 147 Northside Drive East, has its city license to sell alcoholic beverages suspended for seven days for two violations in a five-year period. The suspension begins at 8 a.m. Dec. 8 and ends at 8 a.m. Dec. 15.
The Nov. 2 citation of a Walmart employee by Statesboro police is the second violation there in a five-year period. The first, also on an SPD check, occurred Aug. 7, 2013, Bryan reported.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market on Brampton Avenue is not affected by the suspension.
Dixie Food Mart
For the Dixie Food Mart at 1495 Northside Drive East, operated by Reema Inc., the Nov. 2 violation was the second in five years, Bryan reported. The previous was on a Sept. 12, 2014, check by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
The Dixie Food Mart alcohol license suspension begins 8 a.m. Dec. 8 and ends 8 a.m. Dec. 15. Only the store at 1495 Northside Drive East is affected.
Both the Walmart Supercenter and the Dixie Food Mart agreed to six months on probation. The conditions are the same as for the longer probation imposed on the other stores.
Several businesses have acknowledged violations in the past, in effect pleading guilty to the administrative infractions. But they did so in sometimes lengthy hearings during City Council meetings, and the council was left to decide the penalty. Tuesday, Bryan simply presented the pre-negotiated consent orders on behalf of the Police Department, and the council adopted them.
“The consent order is just a little more formalized document that we’ve put in place to be able to do that,” he said.
The old ordinance had allowed a warning or a one-day suspension for one violation, a three-day suspension for a second violation, a 10-day suspension for a third, up to a 30-day suspension for a fourth violation, and license revocation for a fifth violation. But all of the violations had to occur within a year to be considered.
Now, with the 2016 ordinance, there are no set penalties.
“There’s no guideline in the ordinance to go by, so it’s rather open so we can look at all the factors,” Bryan said.
He credited Advanced Patrol Officer Eric Short, now the city’s alcoholic beverages control, or ABC, officer, with the compliance investigations.
“He has also been working with a lot of these retailers and establishments to make sure they are understanding the new ordinance and complying with it,” Bryan said.
City Council increased alcoholic beverage license fees this year to pay and equip the ABC officer. Statesboro previously did not have an officer assigned specifically to this work.
‘Time will tell’
Tuesday’s votes came as the city government prepared to say goodbye to City Attorney Alvin Leaphart, who drafted the ordinance the past two years in response to problems, including deadly violence, at several nightclubs.
“Only time will tell,” Leaphart said in a recent interview when asked if this ordinance will make a lasting difference. “I do think the new ordinance has all the necessary legal elements for fair and reasonable enforcement.”
Leaphart recently submitted his resignation. He has taken a job as county attorney for Los Alamos County, New Mexico, beginning in January.
The council Tuesday appointed Cain Smith, previously assistant Municipal Court solicitor, to be city attorney on an interim contract from Dec. 15 to June 30.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.