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Battle of the bar
Owners and staff express frustration with the City's server licensing proposal.

Last Tuesday evening, City Manager Michael Brown and Revenue Director Buddy Clay hosted a public meeting with bar owners and staff to discuss the proposed alcohol server licensing ordinance.

About 75 people attended the meeting, which was held in the Civic Center ballroom, to hear the City's proposal and provide input during an open question and answer session.

Representatives from dozens of local establishments turned up to hear the city officials outline their plan, which includes mandated training and background checks for all employees of bars and hybrid establishments in the city, and creating a registry of all alcohol servers in order to monitor those who've been cited for serving to underage drinkers.

There are currently several aspects of the proposal that met resistance from bar owners, including potential hiring delays caused by licensing requirements and the lack of punishment for underage drinkers trying to get into bars.

"We need to quit dancing around the real problem," Mark Fountain of Club One told the City Manager. "If you don't want people under 21 consuming alcohol then talk to the legislative delegation we have to change the laws to put enough teeth to prevent people from testing the door people. I'm sick of playing games with these people."

Several owners had brought stacks of fake IDs that had been confiscated from underage drinkers, however, they also mentioned that few, if any, of the underagers had faced any legal consequences for their attempted entrance.

Another issue raised by the attendees was the inequity of licensing bars and hybrid establishments but not restaurants who serve alcohol.

Brown defended that decision, saying that it was justified by the lopsided number of incidents that occurred in bars and hybrids as opposed to restaurants, where problems were minimal.

"Almost 100 percent of the problems have been bars, lounges and hybrids," Brown told Circa 1857 owner Donald Lubowicki, after he expressed concerns about the proposal.

However, according to data provided by the SCMPD, there have been 21 Underage Drinking citations given in 2009, at least five of which did not occur in or around any licensed establishments.

Although a majority of the citations given this year occurred in the historic district, only three were not given during the week surrounding St. Patrick's Day, and only two have been given since the end of March.
The proposal still has a ways to go before it is finalized and enacted as ordinance. Brown will present a draft to the City Council for further discussion before any vote takes place.

Based on the response from the first public meeting, the City Manager mentioned that a second meeting with owners and staff would probably be a good idea.