City Councilman Phil Boyum's suggestion of an alternative led to a 3-2 vote Tuesday evening rejecting one amendment to Statesboro's city alcoholic beverages law and also to verbal fireworks in which Mayor Jonathan McCollar briefly called for Boyum to be ejected from the meeting.
The amendment on the agenda, for a second reading and motion to adopt, would have mirrored the state’s minimum definition of a bar and, with some added limitations, the state requirement for letting youth under the legal drinking age of 21 into bars for live music and art performances. This was "Option A." An "Option B" that would have restricted customers age 18-20 to a separate area, partitioned from areas where alcohol is served, at bars serving as temporary "music halls," had been abandoned during earlier discussion.
Since the amendment wasn’t passed, Statesboro's existing way of telling bars from restaurants remains in effect for now. Spelling out certain characteristics of a “bar, night club, lounge or similar business,” the current ordinance calls on the chief of police or a designated officer to decide whether a business is subject to the 21-and-up restriction. Some restaurants are designated as bars only during evening hours.
“The business owners in particular want to be able to decide how to run their businesses,” Boyum said. “They want to decide what kind of business they want to operate.”
He said he had been "having a number of discussions" with police, city staff members and business owners and hoped his proposal would work both for the police and licensed businesses. He described his approach as “pro-business” and reflecting a desire “to encourage the growth of our restaurant industries.”
"Both the business owners or license holders and police, neither one of them want the Police Department to be part of the regulatory process,” Boyum said. “In other words, the Police Department doesn't want to be determining what kind of business a business is, and the business owners don't want the Police Department doing that.”
His proposal would divide places licensed to serve alcohol into five distinct categories: bars, pubs, restaurants, event venues and low-volume.
No kitchen would be required for bars, limited to patrons 21 and over at all times. Pubs, required to derive at least 40 percent of their income from food, would operate as restaurants during the day and as bars after 10 p.m. Youth under 18 couldn't stay at a pub past 10 p.m. without a parent or guardian, but young adults 18-20 could remain for concerts if the kitchen stayed open serving food. Restaurants would need to get 70 percent or more of their income from food, with no restriction except that patrons under 21 couldn’t sit in the bar area except with a parent or guardian.
During the meeting, Boyum gave council members and the mayor copies of his notes explaining all five categories.
"That's a suggestion of mine. I've run it by a number of business owners. I've run it by both (City Manager Randy Wetmore) and the Police Department (chief). Both liked the idea, and I'll let them speak for themselves,” Boyum said.
He acknowledged that his proposal not been drafted as an ordinance ready for a vote.
Councilman Sam Lee Jones said he appreciated Boyum’s comments and research.
"To me, not only does it coincide with state law, it makes it sort of personal, it makes it customized to the city of Statesboro," Jones said. "It looks good to me."
But what was on the agenda for a vote was Option A, closely tracking state law.
Michael's Law, a Georgia law named for Michael Gatto, an 18-year-old who died after a beating at a Statesboro night club in August 2014, made 21 the state’s minimum age to enter a bar, with a few exceptions. But the law also defines a bar as deriving at least 75 percent of its revenue from the sale of alcohol and allows admission of 18- to 20-year-olds for live performances with an admission charge.
To this, Statesboro's Option A would add a requirement that patrons under 21 must buy their tickets at least an hour before the performances, and each location would be limited to 52 ticketed events each year.
Option A would also require that each patron under 21 be “conspicuously marked as a minor” to avoid being served alcohol.
Councilman John Riggs made a motion to adopt Option A, and Councilman Jeff Yawn seconded that motion.
When Boyum asked Chief of Police Mike Broadhead to discuss his concerns with Option A,
Broadhead at first said he felt that he was already on the record with these. But he agreed to speak when Boyum asked again.
The state law implies that a place that derives even 26 percent of its annual revenue from something other than alcohol is a restaurant open to everybody under the age of 21, Broadhead said.
"That basically is the rub for us. I don't think the standard is tight enough in a college community to be enforceable,” he said.
In answer to a question from Yawn, Broadhead said he thought Boyum's proposal would be "very helpful" and allow business owners to decide which kind of establishment they want to operate.
New Councilman Derek Duke asked Riggs to restate his motion. He did so, describing it as the adoption of "Option A, which is the minimum state requirements." Yawn repeated his second.
When McCollar called for a voice vote, there seemed to be three ayes and three nays out of the five-member council. Then calling the individual names, he counted Duke, Yawn and Boyum voting "nay," and Riggs and Jones voting "aye."
McCollar said the motion had failed 3-2, and moved on to other agenda items.
Mayor wasn’t notified
But later, after Wetmore asked if an ordinance needed to be drafted reflecting Boyum’s proposal, McCollar held up a copy of the document.
“Statesboro, this is the first time your mayor has seen this,” he said. “I’ve been elected to be the chief policy advocate for the city of Statesboro, and this is the first time that I’ve seen this. … If there is a ghost council that we’re dealing with here, I have a problem with that.”
Still later, under “other business,” Riggs stated his reasons for his motion and vote, and this led up to the heated exchange between Boyum and McCollar.
"I am not for loosening any laws on alcohol. I am for tightening any enforcement that we can do,” Riggs said. “But I believe that the laws we have been playing around with the last eight and a half years are just leading us in circles."
He vowed support for more undercover stings for selling alcohol to people under age 21, for more police personnel, resources and raises if needed, and said citizens know and need to report "where the bad stuff is going on.”
McCollar then commented that the purpose of the proposed Option A had been "to help to expand the customer base” and improve Statesboro’s “pro-business stance."
Pro-biz or burden?
But Boyum’s proposal, McCollar said, would add “an extra burden to these businesses without expanding their customer base.”
Millennials “are the tax base of the future, and so we can't keep going back with archaic laws,” McCollar said. “It's 2018 and Statesboro is still dealing with prohibition. Prohibition has been done with a hundred years. There are states passing weed laws, and we're still dealing with prohibition."
McCollar added that he was "very disappointed that way too many people on this stage knew about this and did not pick up the phone to call your mayor” and asked, “What message does that send to the people?”
When Boyum said that nobody had seen his document before Tuesday, McCollar told him to stop.
"Mr. Mayor, are you going to let me speak?" Boyum asked.
"If you're going to tell the truth,” McCollar said.
"I am telling the truth,” Boyum replied.
McCollar said his point was others had known about it, as they confirmed, but without seeing the written version.
“Why couldn’t you call me?” he asked.
Boyum said the mayor hangs up on him.
He wasn’t removed
"No one saw this document. I have had discussions with multiple council members, multiple business owners and multiple staff members of the course of …,” Boyum said.
"Yeah, I know, Phil pulling another one. This is Phil Boyum, we know who he is....”
"Mr. Mayor, I have a right to speak in this council!"
"You can be removed!"
“No I cannot.”
“Yes, you can. ... Chief, the council member is out of order; we need for him to be removed. Roberts' Rules,” the mayor said.
But Broadhead remained seated, and after some more of this, Al Chapman III, owner of Gnat’s Landing and Del Sur, asked to speak. He said Boyum hadn’t talked to him about the alternative proposal. Chapman said 17 business owners had signed an affidavit supporting the “state law” version of the amendment and also backed additions to give it “more teeth.”
“I’m just wondering, when we spoke about this, where did it go from there when everybody was on the same page and we talked about this so many times?” Chapman said.
Also attending, Eagle Creek Brewing Company owner Franklin Dismuke said Boyum visited the brewpub and talked to him over the weekend but had mostly asked questions and not shown him a proposal. 40 East Grill owner Brian Carter said he was not consulted.
“I think we’re all in the same boat of wanting to help move the city forward and grow our businesses, but we just seem to keep going around in circles,” Carter said after the meeting.
Three other amendments to the alcohol ordinance were unanimously adopted and will be described in a separate story.
Riggs, now the longest-serving council member and mayor pro tem, said Wednesday he hopes to mediate between Boyum and McCollar.
Riggs also said he will seek a revote on the Option A amendment, since he believes the discussion was confusing.
“I believe what was actually to be voted on was becoming misunderstood,” Riggs said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.