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City Council, May 28

Late Night Entertainment Ordinance gets final reading
Requirements softened compared to original proposal
Marc Knapp

Everybody agreed that something needed to be done. As Police Chief Mullen said, there was a lot to lose if a major incident were to occur on King Street in the crowded late night hours. The reputation of the City as a tourist destination could be badly hurt and recovery could take a long time. The Mayor, Council, and most speakers rising in Citizen’s Participation applauded the proposed Late Night Entertainment Establishment Ordinance before Council last night. Although the ordinance had been refined from that passed at the first reading two week ago, there were still some questions.

Although Chief Mullen claimed that there had been numerous meetings with bar and restaurant owners, the Charleston Restaurant Association requested a 30 day delay in approval. It thought that the ordinance had been defined too hastily. There also should be more consideration of educating bar owners and managers, its representative said. Council member Lewis strongly supported the ordinance but lamented that although existing City regulations could be used to control noise and rowdiness, City police frequently failed to enforce them. This charge was made by some speakers representing neighborhood groups that noted that citizens had to take the initiative in calling police to curb noise and rowdiness. Why didn’t police use their own initiative, they asked?

Council member Wilson also had some reservations though she declared her general support for the ordinance. She wondered about the “monitoring” of on-site and off-site parking lots and the problems if these lots were used by patrons of other bars and restaurants. Where did the responsibility lie? Also, what about large establishments with say with a rated capacity of say 500 persons? If they had a bad night with only 100 patrons, they were still obligated to provide the statutory number of security personnel. This would be an unnecessary drag on profitability.

Presumably thinking that these were not important questions or in way, covered in the ordinance, Mayor Riley moved hastily to dismiss them. But the Council member persisted with her questions. The Mayor suggested that an establishment that opened in the expectation of 500 patrons and realizing only 100 was likely to remain in business for only a short time. He also said that the Ordinance could be reviewed once it was implemented. Chief Mullen also rose to answer her question relating to capacity utilization suggesting that it was not an issue. He cited a restaurant that had a capacity of 160 persons which included a bar area capacity of 63. After midnight, the restaurant would close and the security personnel requirement would drop from that for 160 patrons to that for 63.

Viewers can see the revised ordinance by pressing Download file

Following is an extract from a memorandum from Mayor Riley to Council members. It notes the changes to the ordinance from that of the first reading.

Definitions have been modified and/or added which clarify the businesses to which the ordinance applies and what is expected of security personnel.

The number of security personnel required is now more definitively set out. Under the revised ordinance, the small establishments (those whose maximum occupancy load is 50 or less) will only be required to have a person stationed at the door and the general manager may act as the required security person. For the larger establishments, it is now allowed for security supervisors to be included as part of the required security persons not in addition thereto. With these modifications, the ordinance should not require many businesses to have to hire additional employees.

Responsibilities regarding public areas abutting the business have been modified to specify that monitoring, and not policing, is expected. The delineated responsibilities reduce to writing what most of the businesses are now doing. Unruly or illegal conduct is to be reported to the police, as is done now and as it should be. The days the security provisions are applicable have been revised. Wednesdays have been omitted. Major holidays and special events or promotions night have been added.

The ordinance does not incorporate training requirements for security personnel; or servers. South Carolina does not mandate either. Consequently, there are no State sanctioned programs. There are programs offered by the private sector and their use should certainly be encouraged. But to require the police department to verify training would be an additional and huge administrative burden. And our lawyers have cautioned restraint in delving into the inner workings of private businesses. While I support the concept of training, I believe most responsible business owners already take precaution, particularly where alcohol is involved. At this juncture, I believe the better course would be for the police to continue to offer voluntary programs and for the committee created by this ordinance to encourage participation in those programs offered by the private sector. We will always have the opportunity to revisit this issue and perhaps in the interim, the General Assembly will provide guidance on a statewide basis.

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