In the biggest meeting for proposed changes to Statesboro’s Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance this semester, City Council eliminated a daily limit on “happy hour” promotions by restaurants and bars, but approved a minimum drink price.
Also Tuesday, the council set guidelines for the penalties the city’s administrative judge applies to alcohol license violations by businesses. Two more changes were given first readings, slating them to be voted on during a future meeting.
A substantial rewrite of city code section 6-16, “Alcohol promotions; pricing of alcoholic beverages,” appeared on the agenda for adoption on a second reading. Councilman Phil Boyum asked when the first reading had occurred, since it wasn’t during recent meetings.
“I believe it may have been either the second February or the first March agenda meeting. …,” said City Attorney Cain Smith. “And there was still some research that needed to be done at that point.”
The Alcohol Advisory Board had met on the subject Feb. 13, when Smith said about 14 bar and restaurant owners and managers attended. The advisory board then voted 6-0 to recommend a revised version of the ordinance section for the council’s approval.
City Council’s minutes from its Feb. 21 meeting show a first reading for changes to section 6-19, on hearing procedures, not section 6-16. But Smith has a memo where he also presented the section 6-16 amendment as a first reading Feb. 21, he said Wednesday.
In any case, the content was discussed publicly earlier this year. Formal first and second readings are not required to amend an ordinance but are the council’s traditional practice.
The version Smith presented Tuesday was the one the advisory board approved, and police and bar owners agreed it was something they could live with, he said.
In talking with those two groups, Smith had found that the old wording was so ambiguous that it “was not just unenforceable by law enforcement, but it was almost impossible for the licensee to comply with it,” he said.
Enforceability of a minimum drink price, which Smith said is meant to prevent “nickel beer night” promotions and “drink and drown” events with free drinks after a cover charge, was a big topic of previous feedback from bar owners. But owners at the February board meeting expressed support for a $1.50 minimum price.
The revised passage adopted by the council makes it illegal for a licensed establishment to “sell, offer to sell or deliver to any person any alcoholic beverage for on-premises consumption at a price less than $1.50 or less than wholesale cost.”
The phrase “on-premises consumption” was added so that there is no set minimum price for packaged drinks sold at a store, Smith explained Wednesday. Georgia law already prohibits retailing alcoholic beverages at less than wholesale cost.
“Another big sticking point we had was the whole happy hour thing: What do we do with happy hour?” Smith told the council.
But Boyum asked, “Why do we have to do anything with happy hour?”
The proposed ordinance amendment from the advisory board would have prohibited drink specials less than a day long “except during a single up to three hour period that concludes before 10 p.m.”
“If you want to have a lunch special and then an evening special, why should we limit you to one happy hour?” Boyum said. “You can have a happy hour every hour — who cares?”
He said the city’s only concern should be that the state law is complied with and that drinks are not served to patrons under age 21.
“This starts getting into the micromanaging of businesses,” Boyum said. “This particular section is where we had issues, back in the day, of selective enforcement.”
Boyum said he would move to table the amendment, but Mayor Jan Moore urged the council to continue the discussion because of the time other people had already spent on it.
After noting that some national restaurant chains have more than one daily special, Smith offered to strike the entire subsection restricting “happy hour” promotions. On a motion from Councilman Jeff Yawn, seconded by Boyum, the revised ordinance was approved 4-0 with that part removed.
Other clauses had already been removed. The ordinance no longer prohibits licensed business from selling “to any person or group of persons two or more alcoholic beverages during any set period of time at a fixed price” or from increasing “the volume of alcohol contained in a drink without increasing proportionally the price regularly charged.”
Smith said even he didn’t know what some of these things meant. The ordinance, approved by council in March 2016, was drafted by previous City Attorney Alvin Leaphart, who modeled portions of it on the laws of other Georgia cities.
But the ordinance still prohibits games intended to increase drinking or that award alcoholic beverages as prizes. It still prohibits practices such as funneling beer, distributing coupons or tokens for drinks and promotions that discriminate “based on gender, race, creed, color or national origin.”
After the meeting, Smith said he was pleased with the version council approved.
“We have a sensible pricing ordinance now that the owners can understand, the employees can understand, our Police Department can understand and that your city attorney can understand,” he said.
As a resolution, the council also approved a list of penalty guidelines the administrative judge can apply to licensed businesses for violations of the alcohol ordinance.
The recommended fines are now a $500 to $1,000 fine for a first offense; a $1,000 fine and one- to five-day license suspension for a second offense; a $1,500 fine and six- to 10-day suspension for a third offense; and a $1,750 fine and one-year revocation for a fourth offense.
A first-reading hearing was held on an amendment that would give the council discretion to grant a license if minor crimes on an applicant’s record do not present a threat to public safety.
Another change given a first reading would allow brewpubs that buy a license for package sales to sell up to a case of beer a day direct to a customer, in accordance with a new state law.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.