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St. Patrick's Day changes, pot ordinance, Confederate Memorial among City Council items
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In its regular pre-meeting workshop today, Savannah City Council discussed the possibility of “taking ownership” of the larger St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Savannah – potentially including hiring an outside, professional manager – in an effort to balance quality of life issues and to enhance revenue.

Stating that the City doesn’t break even on the festival after all extra expenses are added up, City staff informed Council that the use of so-called “party buses” and attendees carrying backpacks full of alcoholic beverages are “undercutting local businesses to the extent that some are considering closing for St. Patrick’s Day” this year.

During a discussion of what is seen as the increased rowdiness of the festival, Alderman Van Johnson said the crowd on River Street in particular is “increasingly younger, and increasingly unsupervised."

Alderman John Hall suggested "sending someone to New Orleans to see how they run Mardi Gras."

Interestingly, there was little mention of the St. Patrick's Day Parade itself, which is run by an independent committee unaffiliated with City government.

The official celebration in Savannah this year will take place over two days, March 16 and March 17.

The Confederate Memorial Task Force presented its findings to Council at the workshop.

Its survey late last year found that “slightly less than two-thirds of the Savannah residents who responded to the call for public comment desired no changes to the memorial, while slightly more than one-third of the Savannah residents who responded felt that there needed to be some form of change to the memorial.”

Their recommendations include:

* To rename it the Civil War Memorial so as to be “more inclusive to all of Savannah’s Civil War fallen.”

* Preserve all historical material on the memorial. It was decided that the statue of a Confederate soldier on top of the statue represented the “everyman” soldier rather than a specific individual. “In keeping with Savannah’s long tradition of preservation, the Task Force does not recommend removing historical material,” they report.

* Install a new bronze plaque on the blank horizontal panel on the south side of the memorial. “The former memorial was dedicated to the Confederate dead in 1875. It will be rededicated to all the dead of the American Civil War in 2018.”

* Relocate the McLaws and Bartow monuments to Laurel Grove North Cemetery. “These monuments were added to the Forsyth Park site 35 years after the erection of the memorial and are distractions from the original memorial.”

The recommendations will be on the February 14 City Council agenda for Council approval.

In the workshop Council also discussed the long-awaited Tourism Management Plan.

One of the more controversial elements of it will be allowing tourist trolleys to now bear advertising from third parties.

During a somewhat heated debate, Alderman Bill Durrence disagreed with Mayor DeLoach and Alderman Julian Miller about who should get the most credit for Savannah’s tourism success.

Durrence maintains that residents bear the burden through property tax and by investing in their own community, while Miller aggressively countered that the success also has a lot to do with city government and the tourism industry itself.

Durrence said the public doesn't necessarily see it that way, and credited most of the success of tourism to residents and the private sector for improving the neighborhoods that tourists pay to come see.

In the City Council meeting following, Council approved a new hotel overlay district downtown which would limit new hotel development to the following streets: MLK Jr. Blvd., Montgomery, Whitaker, Drayton, Abercorn (Bay to Oglethorpe), Fahm, Ann, River Street, Indian Street, Bay Street, Bryan (west of Lincoln), Broughton, Oglethorpe, Liberty, Zubly, Turner Blvd, Louisville Rd., and Jones west of MLK.

Alderman Van Johnson’s controversial marijuana ordinance – which would limit punishment for a first offense of holding under an ounce to a $150 ticket and no arrest record – got its required first reading.

Saying "We're on the right side of history," Johnson stated that "this is an opportunity not only for criminal justice, but for social justice."

The ordinance gets its second reading, and likely a vote, at the next meeting in two weeks.

The most drama came near the end of the meeting, during what was supposed to be a show-cause hearing for the Over Time Bar & Grill near Tiger Stadium, the site of a series of violent crimes.

Rather than appear for the hearing and have his liquor license revoked, Over Time owner Gregory Webb voluntarily surrendered his liquor license back to the City.

However, Deputy City Attorney Jen Herman and Savannah Police Sergeant Shinita Young with the department’s Alcohol Beverage and Compliance Unit still insisted on showing City Council four clips of surveillance video from inside Over Time the evening of New Year’s Day, 2018.

Herman told Council the video allegedly shows illegally activity linked to nine City ordinance violations and three state law violations.

The first clip shows a fight that started in and near the restroom. The second clip showed the flight spilling over into the main room near the pool tables. Then, gunshots are fired and a man is shot. The third clip shows employees walking though the bar picking up shell casings, with Webb putting the evidence in his pocket.

See the videos here.

Herman called this tampering with a crime scene and altering evidence, and said no one associated with the bar called 911 to report the shooting.

Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew said officers had to knock down the door to gain entry.

The fourth clip is from the kitchen of Over Time and clearly showed a drug transaction taking place.

The mother of the 24-year-old man shot in the video viewed the graphic footage for the first time today.

She told Council emotionally, "I've come to plead and beg that this place be shut down." She said “the owner allowed him to get beaten and shot several times in this club."

Alderman Tony Thomas said he wanted to make sure that Webb surrendering his license, instead of having it revoked, wouldn’t make it easier for him to get another license in the future. He was assured that it wouldn’t.