Thursday, May 12, 2011
City passes closing-hours ordinance
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs Board of Alderman, addressing recent crime problems, passed an emergency ordinance last week regulating closing hours for establishments that primarily sell and serve alcohol until late hours.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry presented the ordinance and asked the board for its immediate adoption.
The ordinance follows a town hall meeting two weeks ago in which citizens cried out for more regulation of drinking establishments and enforcement of laws on the books.
In presenting the draft ordinance, DeBerry said “the open-ended closure thing (closing hours) has to stop. The liquor has to be off the table at 1 a.m.,” he said.
He said bar owners may be under the impression the law states no alcoholic drinks may be served after 1 a.m.
“They do not think the liquor has to be off the table and gone at 1 a.m.,” he said.
He also urged all drinking establishments be closed between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the light of two shootings last month thought to be connected with after-hours business.
“In light of two situations last month, one related to a club and another likely related to after hours, we need to be shut from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.,” DeBerry said.
City attorney Ki Jones, pleased with the draft presented by the mayor, urges immediate activation of the ordinance under an emergency statute in the Mississippi Code, Section 21-12-11.
The mayor said he has instructed police to enforce hours and the fire chief to set certificate of occupancy enforcement in drinking establishments.
“You are supposed to be able to be seated in a restaurant,” DeBerry said.
“You cannot stand around the wall three or four deep. Clubs are coming out as bars and grills and turning into clubs after 10 p.m. So we are relying on state law and restraints.”
Alderman Russell Johnson asked if the city could close the bar on grounds it is a public nuisance.
DeBerry said police can close a bar after obtaining a court order.
Johnson asked who could file a complaint.
Jones said anybody can file a complaint but the court has to issue a finding to close.
“It’s like an injunction for a place to cease to do business based on nuisance,” Jones said. “It can be filed by any citizen and the owner/operator has a chance to respond and have a public hearing.”
DeBerry said there are places in town renting out space for dances and that they charge an entry fee, then give away alcohol rather than sell it.
“You can’t do that without a liquor license,” he said. “Even if it is a birthday party, you cannot dispense alcohol without a liquor license.”
DeBerry said this is happening a lot.
“We have to start enforcing,” he said.
Johnson added that neither alcohol nor food can be sold in those instances without permits to sell alcohol or to sell food.
Alderman Calvin James asked if the ordinance would address procedures to close a club if a crime is committed.
DeBerry said an ordinance can only deal with one thing at a time. Another ordinance would be required to close if a crime is committed, he said.
Alderman Johnny Ree Bagley asked if anything could be done about loitering in places such as The Flying Eagle on Highway 178.
DeBerry said the city has been asking the business to post a no loitering sign; that the city cannot prevent loitering on private property.
Jones said if a criminal violation occurs, a police officer can intervene. But people have a constitutional right to assemble lawfully where there is no public nuisance, he said.
The mayor said the city is trying to get businesses to post no loitering signs to make it easier for the police to enforce it at a business.
“If the owner says disperse and they don’t, they can ask for the police,” Jones said.
Pearson said one business said police presence runs their customers away.
Colhoun asked Pearson how often police enter a bar and grill.
“We entered only where there is a problem, but we are now,” said Pearson. “We are going to do it everywhere.’
The chief asked if there are regulations regarding restaurants that serve beer.
DeBerry said under the ordinance, a restaurant could stay open and serve food, but not drinks after 1 a.m.
“They can skirt the issue,” said fire chief Kenny Holbrook.
DeBerry explained a restaurant primarily sells food, while a bar or bar and grill may serve some food, but most of their business is directed at selling drinks.
He said the business files a document with the planning commission stating whether it will be a restaurant. It has to have a license to operate as a restaurant and a certificate of occupancy, he said.
“If you are not licensed and active with the city and have no liquor license, you are not licensed with ABC,” the mayor said. “Therefore, you should be closed.”
Holbrook added that rental facilities must have a license to serve beer when it is used by the public for dances or events where alcohol will be present.
“Are we planning to enforce the ordinance with the police department?” asked alderman Garrie Colhoun.
“This gives them something to enforce,” DeBerry said.
“We deliver the message to the facility it can be over crowded and the chief can shut them down,” Holbrook said. “They know how many people they can have. If we close them one or two times, they will stop it (having more people than the business is rated for).”
Jones recommended the ordinance be brought up for a motion immediately.
Bagley asked about convenience stores.
DeBerry said they have cutoff hours, too, and can start selling beer again at 8 a.m. Liquor stores operate legally between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., he said.
With that, Jones proposed the ordinance be approved immediately. The mayor ordered the ordinance be read aloud, and afterward the board unanimously approved the ordinance.
DeBerry clarified the ordinance only deals with cutoff times for serving alcohol and closing times for bars, bars and grills, dance halls and night clubs.
Jones emphasized a restaurant that serves alcohol must also abide by the 1 a.m. cutoff for drinks and the 2 a.m. for closing.
The ordinance is published in the legal notices of this week’s paper.
The board then discussed the cost of weather and emergency sirens and Holbrook said a set that would cover the entire city would run in the $100,000 range. He said he has tried, without success, to get a grant to purchase a system, but larger cities are given priority for these grant monies.
DeBerry said if the city wants one, anyway, without funding, the citizens would have to be willing to be taxed to pay for it.
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