City renews Dillinger’s alcohol license; places it on 90-day probation

Published 2:30 pm Monday, February 27, 2017

AMERICUS — The Americus Mayor and City Council’s monthly meeting lasted longer than usual on Thursday, and was a mixture of citizen input, recognitions, presentations, and lengthy discussion.
By far, the most charged item on the agenda was the renewal of the alcohol beverage license for Dillinger’s at 120 N. Lee St., in downtown. Council ultimately approved the license but with a 90-day probationary period.
On the agenda, to speak on an agenda item, was Will Britt, owner of Dillinger’s, who said he helped bring Dillinger’s to Americus, speaking on behalf of Heath Cox, the license holder. Britt said that five years ago when the business came to Americus, he met with city officials, the building’s owner, and representatives of Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College to make sure everything was in code with the city. He mentioned the addition of a “$32,000 outside staircase” added to the building they lease downtown. He also said after the alcohol beverage license renewal and check were sent in to the city and the check cashed, Cox “felt things were moving forward” and the city gave Dillinger’s four tasks: education of staff about limiting service to intoxicated patrons, security cameras, hiring off-duty police officers to patrol in and around the business, and not serving underage customers.
Bo Musselwhite was also on the agenda to speak about “alcohol licensing.” Reading from a prepared script, he objected to the stipulations placed on Dillinger’s by the city, saying “the reason the city won’t approve the license is unclear.” He said he has never seen Floyd’s at the Windsor Hotel being the focus of underage drinking and stated that the parking lots used by Dillinger’s patrons are public parking lots and it should not be Dillinger’s responsibility to provide security for the parking lots. He suggested that security be paid for, by the city, from revenue from the downtown surtax paid for from downtown merchants.
“Georgia Southwestern State University’s enrollment is increasing,” Musselwhite said, “and there needs to be something downtown for college students … ”
Sharad Patel, owner of the Best Western Windsor Hotel, was also on the agenda to speak on “bar times and the noise ordinance.” Reading from a prepared statement, Patel said he and his family have lived in Americus for over 20 years, and he has owned the hotel for 18 years and this was his first time addressing the city council. He pointed out that loud noise and loitering are already in the city’s ordinance but enforcement needs to be strengthened on sidewalks and in parking lots.
“The public deserves to have a safe downtown area. Nothing good happens after midnight,” he said, adding that Dillinger’s patrons leave at 2 a.m. to walk to their cars and loudly congregate in the parking lots adjacent to the Windsor. He said he has dealt with noise complaints from his hotel guests for 10 years, with 42 guest complaints in the last month alone, for which he has had to offer discounts. “Many who have complained probably will not return to Americus. This hurts the reputation of the Windsor and the community,” he said. “Having intoxicated, loud people on the streets after midnight, much less after 2 a.m., discourages businesses from wanting to locate here. We need to keep Americus safe and encourage events for families … The Windsor is the flagship of Americus … It is a tourist destination and an economic engine …  In order to preserve the quality of life and safety, you need to push back the time for last alcohol sales to midnight and increase police presence to enforce the ordinance.”
Patel had supplied a copy of a letter he had received from a hotel guest, a woman from Virginia who had traveled to Georgia with her 17-year-old daughter in order to hear President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school lesson in Plains. The woman was very disappointed in their hotel stay due to excessive noise from drunk people outside the hotel. See entire letter on the Times-Recorder’s website
When the item concerning Dillinger’s license finally came up on the agenda, Americus Police Chief Mark Scott told city council that his department had another report regarding Dillinger’s last weekend in which an underage individual passed out in the parking lot after drinking in Dillinger’s. His recommendation was to not approve the alcohol license renewal.
Council member Daryl Dowdell asked the police chief how the police knew the individual had been drinking in Dillinger’s and Scott said “because he told us.” Dowdell suggested putting the business on probation. “I don’t agree with your recommendation,” he told the chief. “We need to give them a chance. That’s where college kids hang out, and college kids are going to be college kids.”
Council member Nelson Brown said, “I feel this is a chance to put this business on probation and make them stick to it.”
Mayor Barry Blount asked city attorney, Jimmy Skipper, to give them their options.
Skipper said the deadline for application for license renewal and payment of business fees is Nov. 1-15 to provide time for the police department to conclude its investigation so the vote can go before city council at its December meeting. He said Dillinger’s sent its application and fee on Dec. 29, which was after city council’s December meeting. Since the license was not approved by Jan. 1 because they filed late, Skipper said Dillinger’s has been selling alcohol without a license. “You’re now to decide whether to issue the license for 2017,” he said.
Skipper laid out four (out of over 25 in the ordinance) grounds for not issuing the license. These were: the business is guilty of violating any federal, state or local ordinance or regulation regarding the manufacture, possession, or sale of alcoholic beverages (selling to underage individuals); owner of an alcoholic license is unfit due to necessity of unusual police observation and inspection to prevent violations  of laws, ordinances, or regulations relating to the business; the negative effect the business has on the adjacent or surrounding properties or neighborhoods (noise complaints from hotel guests and/or downtown residents)” and indication that the sale of alcohol at the business is not in the best interest of the public health, safety or welfare.
Skipper told the council the four options they had regarding Dillinger’s: issue the alcohol license; deny the license; revoke or suspend the license; or issue the license and immediately place on probation.
Council member Juanita Wilson said she didn’t feel that “the business owner had been given the opportunity to change management to make it right. I suggest we issue the license and put them on probation for 90 days.”
Council member Shirley Green Reese asked the city attorney if the 90-day probationary period could be extended. Skipper responded, “only if the facts warrant it. If they comply, there is no basis for continued probation. You can however suspend or revoke the license, which lasts a year.”
Council member Lou Chase commented to city manager, Steve Kennedy, “I thought you had met with them and they were given clear guidelines on what’s required by the city.” Kennedy reiterated that he and other city officials had met with Dillinger’s people Nov. 21. “I made the comment about the city having grave concerns about activities at the business. They were told if there was one more incident where the police were called, they could lose their license. We didn’t say we require parking lot security; we just asked them for it, and to revise the way they operate. They expressed the possibility of putting together a lunch menu … One of them was to provide a letter to the city recapping what we asked for and what they would do. We still have not received a letter. The current manager has been manager since November. There could be liability on the part of the city.”
Kennedy sent a registered letter to the Dillinger’s people on Feb. 9 reminding them of what they had agreed to in November. See entire letter
Green-Reese asked about recent violations at Dillinger’s. Chief Mark Scott said a couple of weekends ago, there was an incident involving an underage drinker who passed out and injured himself with a .276 blood alcohol level (.08 is illegal if driving). That individual told police he had used a friend’s ID to be served alcohol. “He passed out and busted his head in the bar,” Scott said.
Council member Dowdell said, “We need to look at downtown. We don’t want it to be a ghost town. There’s already nothing to do here. If we close businesses, what are kids going to do? We don’t expect Dillinger’s to keep breaking the rules but there should be a more feasible approach.”
Skipper commented that under the ordinance, the license holder has the right to appeal council’s decision. “Mr. Kennedy has a point about liability. If we know something is going on and we don’t fix it, we could be sued,” he said.
Council member Chase made a motion to deny the alcohol license for Dillinger’s based on the four grounds previously outlined by the city attorney. That motion died on the floor due to the lack of a second.
Dowdell then moved to approve the alcohol license and to immediately put the business on a 90-day probation period. Council member Carla Cook seconded the motion. During the discussion phase, prior to the vote, Nelson Brown said, “I can support Ms. Chase, Mr. Kennedy and the chief on that, but based on giving people another chance,” as he looked at those representing Dillinger’s in the audience.
Kennedy said, “The direction we’ve taken, with the support of all the council, is that we’re tired of the activities going on over there [at Dillinger’s]. This has moved us to make notice on them. The signal being sent is ‘it’s OK to do these things.’ If we continue to give them a second chance, and a second chance, and if at the end of 90 days, you ignore the 40 pages [of police reports relative to the business] … ”
Green-Reese recalled that at the last meeting, council said they were tired of the reports and they were ready to vote. “If we do this, [approve the license and put on probation], we’ll have to do the same thing for every club in the city.”
Following a little back and forth between Dowdell and Green-Reese, who were asked by the mayor to speak one at a time, Green-Reese said she wants to make sure she listens to their attorney when it comes to the law.
When the vote was taken, Dowdell, Cook, Green-Reese and Wilson voted yes, while Brown and Chase voted no.
Should there be further trouble at Dillinger’s during the 90-day probationary period, they will be required to appear before city council and council would again address the matter.