The Statesboro City Council plans to address the alcohol ordinance at a specially-called workshop on February 2, 2016 at 5:00 p.m., but the council has already met once and faces a series of hurdles in streamlining the ordinance currently on the books.
City Attorney Alvin Leaphart addressed the council with a PowerPoint presentation where he detailed the current process for alcohol ordinance violations. Leaphart acknowledged that the majority of focus has been directed simply at the age of those inside establishments that serve alcohol, instead of considering a birds eye view.
Leaphart explained currently, when an establishment is closed down for alcohol ordinance violations, there is nothing on the books that prohibits someone else from opening a new establishment at the same location and obtaining an alcohol sales permit. There is no consideration for whether the location is a good one or not. Further, the council has no role in approving or denying alcohol licenses as it currently only goes through the city clerk. Suggestions were made to transition to a process similar to that of granting a variance because, Leaphart stated, “when you grant a license, you are saying without the license, the action would be illegal.”
Leaphart expressed the problem with defining “restaurants” versus “bars” when issuing alcohol licenses. He said the real question is “Should someone under the age of 21 be here?” He offered the example of theaters and boutiques that sell glasses of wine but don’t fall into either category. It’s difficult to ensure the ordinance applies equally to everyone. Another point worth address, he mentioned, is the need to provide for probation terms for businesses with violations, as not every violation is under the same circumstances. Essentially, Leaphart said more discretion is needed.
Also of concern is that Statesboro doesn’t currently have an appeals process for denied alcohol licenses, a practice that is a violation of state law. Georgia law requires the person denied a license to not only present evidence, but cross examine those who are opposed to the administration of the alcohol license. The city is also falling short on ‘state proximity laws’ which dictate zones where alcohol sales can and cannot occur.
In the same vein, Leaphart stated that the now-dissolved Alcohol Control Board may have ended on unpopular terms, but did serve a purpose in providing a hearing and helped the city meet legal requirements mandated by the state. If there is no Board to hear grievances, the council must change the standard and hear the appeals themselves.
In order to comply with state law, the council has two options moving forward:
- Create a body that serves in place of the former Alcohol Control Board. Each member of the council would be able to appoint someone to serve on the board. If the decision is appealed, the council would hear the evidence from both sides and issue a final decision. Interim city manager Robert Cheshire expressed his concern that quorum would not be regularly met on a new board, however, it was stated that when a board is established, the definition of quorum can be determined by the council and mean as few as three people. (In place of a board, an Administrative Judge can hear appeals as well.)
- The City Council can hold all hearings themselves.
Mayor Moore expressed her desire to have an appeals process put into place as soon as possible.
Either way, it appears the city council will soon have more power over the process of issuing, denying, and hearing appeals for alcohol licenses in city limits.
No action was taken at the workshop. This was the first workshop for new council members Jeff Yawn and Sam Lee Jones. Councilman Phil Boyum was not in attendance.