Friday, October 13, 2006

Drankin'

As everybody and their bartender knows, rumors are flying that the Commission has just about had enough of people going downtown to drink and listen to good music, so they're taking steps to make downtown Athens "safer."

Ok, before you guys get all over my ass, they're going to ask the state legislative delegation to do some legislatin' to ostensibly cut down on underage drankin'. Among the proposals:

  • Adding a bar code with DOB information to your driver's license.
  • Making it a crime to have someone else's ID if you're caught drinking underage.
  • Making doormen criminally liable for letting in underage people.
WTF? Now, I'm ok with the second point. Although, I would mention that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why you might have someone else's ID. Still, that doesn't really matter, since (as the local govt. wants the statute written) you've already been busted for drinking underage. So we'll hope that law enforcement and prosecutors use a little common sense if this law gets passed.

The bar code thing isn't going to solve very many problems, unless the ACC Commission or the state gummint is planning on providing scanners at little or no cost. If they don't, then this is just another unfunded mandate thrown on to bar owners. Also, I expect to see the tinfoil hat crowd go apeshit about this one. Please don't disappoint me.

Now, making doormen criminally liable for letting in the younguns? I'm not so sure about that one, to be honest. First of all, let's be clear. If a doorman is knowingly letting in the youth of Athens, then sure, bust them. But think about any crowded night downtown. When customers are stacked 8 or 10 deep at the door, and with fake IDs getting better and better, is it really good policy to hold door staff responsible for an honest mistake? The net result of a law like this is pretty clear - no doorman wants to get arrested, they'll move on to doing something else, and the bars downtown will have less doormen and less experienced doormen. And the crowd control problem grows.

Elton Dodson: The Voice of Reason
That's one I never thought I'd type. But Super-Commissioner Dodson (I assume he wears the cape and tights on his own time) has a point, and the ABH is wrong for calling him out in this editorial.

Let's give credit where credit is due - and Elton (along with County Attorney Bill Berryman) has a point. Other local bloggers are on this like white on rice in a snowstorm, so I don't have much to add. Here's Adrian. Here's JMac.


The Bar Owners are Peee-yossed!
So local bar owners are organizing. The leadership appears to be coming from the cats who own Walker's, but sources tell me that they had a very well-attended meeting on Wednesday evening with about 25 - 30 bar owners in attendance. The bar owner's association meeting covered a variety of topics, with one of the main things being why the Mayor and Commission keeps picking on them with skyrocketing property taxes (some bar owners have seen around a 300% property tax increase in the last four years), the extra excise tax on liquor drinks, the sidewalk cafe railings that make crowd control harder, and a handful of other issues.

This is a group that is going to get politically involved pretty soon, as I understand it.

There are two mindsets on this whole issue of how the Commission treats bar owners. Either the bar owners are legitimate business owners who deserve to be treated with the same dignity that the owners of other businesses get from the gummint; or they are ruthless merchants of sin and iniquity that happen to be a convenient piggy bank for those times when the general fund gets a little short.

Here's what I don't get. Many of our commissioners, and certainly our Mayor, talk a good game about being supportive of the downtown entertainment industry. I've seen Heidi downtown. Same with Elton, David Lynn, and a few others. But once they get behind the rail - well, I'm not ready to say that they are anti-bar yet. I will say that the bar owners have a couple of good points to make.

Not to sound too Donald Rumsfeld here, but you build a local economy on the businesses you have, not the businesses you wish you had. If you've lived here for a few decades, as I have, you might remember what downtown looked like a few months after Georgia Square Mall opened up. It wasn't a pretty sight. Bars and music venues kept downtown Athens from looking like any one of hundreds of blighted city centers. They also contribute a lot of money into the local economy.

In any event, it's a good thing that the bar owners are getting organized. The main problem between government and business in this town is a lack of communication.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know who is responsible for all this misinformation but there is a ton of it contained in this small space. So much of this is either factually wrong or makes incorrect assumptions and/or assigns blame where there is none or where it goes in the wrong direction - lordy, lordy! This will take hours just to get back to the facts so you can have, if you then choose, an honest debate.

Here are just a few of the zingers to help you get started:
- there has been no addtional drink tax of any kind whatsoever in the last 4 years; the excise tax on drinks was last addressed during Doc's administration

- the "doormen liability" proposal brought up in a meeting of the Campus Community Coalintion on Alcohol and Substance Abuse and was quickly and enthusiastically embraced by...insert drumroll...the BAR OWNERS! Warren Southall said it would help him a great deal to motivate his own employees to do a better job. The other bar owners in the room had no objections to the idea. This idea did not originate with the M&C - it wasn't even on Heidi's radar screen.

- more communication, huh? Great idea! Try getting bar owners to a meeting sometime. Yep, now that there is an election in 3 1/2 weeks, suddenly they've got issues they want addressed but not one of them has called, written, emailed, or smokesignaled Heidi in the previous 3.5 years. In fact, when she has wanted their input, she has had to call them - repeatedly in some cases - or go to their establishment to try to find them so she can talk to them.
The Coalition meetings have been more productive as of late. Heidi went there with her ideas about the other legislative initiatives to present them and get their input BEFORE they went forward. Everyone was supportive of them and then they added the last one about the doormen.

OK, that's all I have time for at the moment.

I like blogs. I like this one. Great place for sharing ideas and opinions but usually a lousy place to get your news.

It's so very easy to get the facts - ask someone who was there. If you get this stuff from someone who didn't bother to show up at the meetings or call someone who was there, then...you get this kind of stuff.

Thanks!
Al Davison
(no time for proofreading or spell checking - I hope it's not too embarrassing.)

Publius said...

"- there has been no addtional drink tax of any kind whatsoever in the last 4 years; the excise tax on drinks was last addressed during Doc's administration"

Settle down, cupcake. I'm not blaming Heidi for everything. In fact, I believe I said, "I'm not ready to say that they are anti-bar yet." Yeah, I guess I did say that, since I just copied and pasted it. And, I'm assuming, since I've only lived in Athens for, oh the last few decades or so, that some of our august commissioners were also on the Commission during Doc's tenure. But hey, what do I know? I just disagree with the Mayor and Commission on occasion (in addition to supporting and even defending them on occasion), so my opinions are meaningless and I definitely should be put in my place. Also, I imagine that if you asked any bar owner, they'd probably tell you that the current administration didn't start the ball rolling on any of this madness.

"- the "doormen liability" proposal brought up in a meeting of the Campus Community Coalintion on Alcohol and Substance Abuse and was quickly and enthusiastically embraced by...insert drumroll...the BAR OWNERS! Warren Southall said it would help him a great deal to motivate his own employees to do a better job. The other bar owners in the room had no objections to the idea. This idea did not originate with the M&C - it wasn't even on Heidi's radar screen."

Even if the Pope himself suggested it, I still think it's a bad idea, for the reasons I enumerated above - none of which you chose to address, Al. I'm not shilling for the bar owners here, I'm giving my opinion on the idea, and I think it's a pretty lousy one.

"I like blogs. I like this one. Great place for sharing ideas and opinions but usually a lousy place to get your news."

Yeah, we don't claim to be a news site. You've got the Banana-Herald, Flagpole, and WGAU for that. Pete, Ben, Blake and Tim do a good job of reporting the news. This is commentary. Big diff.

As far as facts go, if I got the facts of the three suggested proposals wrong, then I'll retract and stand corrected. If you just don't like my opinions, then let's have a beer and drink a toast to the First Amendment.

By the way, there is one thing I'm going to concede to Al here, at least partially. I'm willing to grant his point about bar owners not communicating with Heidi. She's been nothing but accessible to us, and indeed seeks us out on occasion. I don't think that that makes the least bit and I hope that all of the Commission, not just the Mayor, will welcome the efforts the bar owners are making now to open up some communication.

Publius said...

Errr...before the dangling modifier patrol gets on me, let me clarify. When I said, "I'm giving my opinion on the idea, and I think it's a pretty lousy one," I meant the idea was lousy, not my opinion on it.

Anonymous said...

hehehe...I wasn't angry at you, just in a hurry. ;-)

I know where some of this is coming from and a lot of the misinformation is coming from the Bar Owners for Maddox camp.

Sorry if it came across wrong.
Al

Todd Mitchell said...

Regardless of where it came from, I agree with my colleague that making doormen "criminally liable" is absurd. It certainly won't "motivate" doormen to do their job better. Having both poured drinks and worked the door in my history, a move like this would make me quit. Why on earth would an employee making minimum wage plus a shift drink at the end of the night want to take a position that could potentially put him in jail at the end of the night? All the "leg" in the world ain't worth that.

Publius said...

"leg"?

Really, Todd?

Fishplate said...

"But think about any crowded night downtown. When customers are stacked 8 or 10 deep at the door, and with fake IDs getting better and better, is it really good policy to hold door staff responsible for an honest mistake?"

Well, not for honest mistakes...sadly, that's why there's a courtroom.

But what makes the doorman any more or less capable to do his only job (yeah, I know) rather than the ~extremely~ harried bartender? If they are eight deep at the door, they are sixteen deep at the brass rail. Makes economic sense to pay a good doorman a little more and give him some responsibility, rather than to dump a minimum wage employee and foist all the responsibility off onto the bartender over and over and over and over again, literally ad nauseum...

Chuck said...

Gonna have to agree with the main blog post here. Leave the bar owners alone. Let them run their business and stop moralizing about them. This is ATHENS Georgia, not Marietta or some Pleasant Valley Sunday suburb. There are kids here, and they like to drink. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

Hey .... quickest, easiest idea to send up to our legislative delegation, will wipe out 80% of underage drinking overnight:
LOWER THE DRINKING AGE TO EIGHTEEN and get over yourselves. Ya think that maybe not keeping kids from drinking until 21 might give them experience handling alcohol, rather than binging when they can get their hands on it? I dunno, but what exactly is 21 getting us? And whose idea was it anyway?

- An adult who grew up when it was 18, and saw no more, and probably less "problem drinking" than today.

Anonymous said...

If you feel strongly that the drinking age should be lowered, please contact your Congressman and Senators.

Federal transportation funding is linked to the enforcement of the current legal drinking age. A muncipality has no power to lower the drinking age - that is a state law. The states can choose to lower the drinking age but they will lose all their federal transportation dollars if they elect to do that so, it's pretty unlikely that the state legislature would adopt such a measure.

Again, the issue is ultimately at the federal level since Georgia can't afford to lose that money.

I urge you to make your feelings known to your Congressional and Senate representatives. Let us know how that works out.

Al

Fishplate said...

"quickest, easiest idea to send up to our legislative delegation, will wipe out 80% of underage drinking overnight:
LOWER THE DRINKING AGE TO EIGHTEEN
"

Why have a drinking age at all?

Adrian said...

What is the criminal liability proposal for doormen exactly? Would liability extend to mistakes, be restricted to intentional violations, or be somewhere in between?

Even though there are courtrooms, we don't want to make it too easy for police to charge someone with any crime. There is loss of time, loss of money, and stress involved with fighting criminal charges or any sort of litigation. For instance, are all speeding tickets given fairly? Of course not, but are people going to show up in court out of principle or just pay them and move on? That's the idea. Relying on courts is NOT the way to be satisfied that justice is done.

john_parker said...

Actually, I don't think Al has it exactly right on the excise taxes. Georgia law allows a municipality to collect an extra 3% tax on each liquor drink sold, if they choose to do so. However, it's my understanding that during the last couple of years (and it may very well have been Doc's administration that started this), the finance department has been auditing licensees to make sure that they're paying the "proper" amount of taxes. From the bar owners I've talked to, I gather that their more recent complaints have been with the finance department's method of estimating taxes due. I think that previously the county had either chosen not to collect the tax, or basically just let licensees pay whatever they wanted. I have no position on whether this is "right"; I just wanted to provide some more context.

I really wanted to address the new legislative proposals. First of all, unless the law limits liability to those who knowingly let in an underage person, the law shouldn't be even proposed. "Should have known" shouldn't be good enough. I mean, it's one thing if the person working the door looks at an ID which clearly says that the holder is under 21, but it's another thing entirely when a person comes to a bar with a fake ID or someone else's ID.

As far as possessing someone else's ID, this is a perfect example of writing another law which is unnecessary. Georgia law already prohibits the possession of a false/fraudulent ID document (O.C.G.A. 16-9-4(b)(1)) and presenting someone else's ID as your own (O.C.G.A. 40-5-125). It sounds like the proposed law criminalizes what a cop is guessing happened, rather than knowing for sure. As the previous poster said, don't count on prosecutorial or law enforcement discretion -- there's not going to be much.

As far as the scanners go, it's a good idea if the county provides scanners. Alcohol licensees pay enough for licenses that this should be workable.

Polusplagchnos said...

John, that's an interesting application of 40-5-125. My understanding is that 40-5-125 is for a "moving violation", rather than the misdemeanor of passing it off as one's own identification as you get in 16-9-4(b)(6). One's an arrest that needs a warrant sworn before a magistrate, the other's completed on a UTC and handled in Municipal court as a traffic violation.

I've said it elsewhere already, but I think 16-9-4(b)(6) already handles the kind of concerns being raised about getting found with other people's licenses. But, cops do have to make a case towards probable cause to make an arrest for possession of a license for fraudulent purposes, they don't have to "know for sure." Still, I think the spirit of what you're saying is correct: we should not make what is already a higher standard into a lesser one for the sake of stacking on charges onto someone. If the officer cannot demonstrate probable cause to make the additional charge, the officer should not charge. Why get rid of all that protective apparatus to get adults to stop buying alcohol?

crewzin777 said...

Polusplagchnos, I believe that john_parker is correct about 40-5-125.

Even though it's in Title 40 there is no element of driving or operating a moving vehicle required to prove a violation of that particular code section.

Anonymous said...

Fishplate -
I couldn't agree more. I thing the "drinking age" is an absurdity at any #. Allow bar owners to determine one, if they want, to define the character of their establishment, but why, indeed? Maybe some structure where parents can decide if they want their kids drinking?

a1

Fishplate said...
"quickest, easiest idea to send up to our legislative delegation, will wipe out 80% of underage drinking overnight:
LOWER THE DRINKING AGE TO EIGHTEEN"

Why have a drinking age at all?

Polusplagchnos said...

I recognize that the elements of 40-5-125 don't involve the presentation of the license or ID card while driving (it's a different crime to drive with only an ID, for example; so it wouldn't make sense to say that this is only applicable in motor vehicle situations where the offender is driving). My point is that, in Athens, most of the time 40 code violations are handled by the municipal court, and the majority of 16 code violations are not. Charging someone with the 16 code means that the officer has to appear before a judge and swear upon an affidavit, whereas the 40 code can be handled using a uniform traffic citation which doesn't require appearing before a magistrate to take out a warrant. One means going to jail, whereas it doesn't appear that 40-5-125 is one of the 40 code offenses that results in an automatic suspension (for which you would go to jail rather than be released at the scene). That's why I'm saying it's handled as a traffic violation, which doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

I'm saying that the practice on the street is going to be different depending upon which of the laws the officer charges with. I'm not a lawyer, and I am not working off from how the case law treats the interrelationship of these laws. I'll have to defer to a lawyer who can work up the case law, as I don't know if the Trooper legal updates ever discuss this issue.

But, my experience was that we used the 16 code violation for such situations where the adult offender admitted to using the other person's license illegally to purchase alcohol. And that worked.

But, yeah, my experience need not be the law. I'm sure any lawyer whose active in the discipline will agree with me that there is an awakening difference between the letter of the law in the code book and the application of it in the justice systems. How things were handled by myself and others around me could be quite provincial, and needs updating.

john_parker said...

Actually, 40-5-125 does result in a 6-month suspension of the offender's driver's license. It's true that, as a Title 40 offense, a person can be cited and released (I don't know of any requirement in any part of the code that says that a person charged with an offense that results in a license suspension has to be arrested), instead of swearing out a warrant. The technical, legal difference between the title 16 and the title 40 offense is mainly what is done with the license; 16-9-4 criminalizes possession of a fraudulent ID, while 40-5-125 criminalizes the presentation of someone else's ID.

Basically, it comes down to what the officer decides to charge. My only point is that another law isn't needed. After reading the Flagpole bit about what Jack Lumpkin actually wanted the law to do, I am even more convinced that it's unnecessary.

Polusplagchnos said...

John, where do you get that 40-5-125 results in a 6 month suspension? Not being confrontational, just genuine interest. I like to learn what I do not know!

I was thinking more along the lines of 40 code violations such as DUI or aggressive driving when I made the comment about those offenses resulting in arrests: it doesn't seem that an officer would release someone from the scene with just a citation, not without some hinky reasons. But, perhaps I was confusing policy with law.

I am totally in agreement with you, though: we don't need another law.

crewzin777 said...

OCGA 40-5-54(a)(6) requires suspension of one's privilege to drive for anyone convicted of violating 40-5-120 or 40-5-125.

It can be a real b*&^%$ to find out what charges will suspend one's license, and for how long. They can never put it in the code section of the law itself. You always have to look at 40-5-54, 40-5-63 and god knows where else.

Plus what OCGA says should be done and what DMVS (or whatever they are called these days) actually does can be two very different things.

Polusplagchnos said...

Thanks.

So, one could say that charging an adult with 40-5-125 for using another's license to purchase alcohol could result in one's driver's license being suspended? Doesn't that seem.... odd?

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to follow all this legal stuff that is above my pay-grade in terms of the law but...

I will say that holding a driver's license, for which you use as a form of identification, is a privelege rather than a "right". If you knowingly present a fake in order to commit a crime, the punishment seems reasonable.
This is not an official campaign position nor is it necessarily Heidi's position - just an observation from me as a citizen.

The privilege of holding a license to drive is one that can and should be suspended in some cases for willfully committing crimes as a deterant since so many other inconveniences are visited upon those whom are thusly convicted. In fact, it seems a more "equal" punishment than a mere fine since many of our citizens are fiscally able to pay fines without suffering any real harm. In plain English, rich people can easily afford to pay almost any fine without really suffering any lasting harm. Fine Bill Gates $500 and see how much that would deter him from committing the same offense. Ha!

Still, I have to repeat (ad nauseum) that if you have something substantive to add to this discussion then, by all means, contact Heidi. Blogging is not necessarily participating in government.

Al

Nicki said...

Just my two cents here. what the heck is wrong with placing the legal liability on the employees who actually check IDs? It's hard for a bartender to do that, and a waste of the time of a skilled employee.

I, too, was troubled by the tenor of this post. It's unnecessarily suspicious and vague -- kind of like the signs you referenced, one of which prompted me to switch coffee shops.

Publius said...

"what the heck is wrong with placing the legal liability on the employees who actually check IDs? "

Nothing at all. You know, except for the fact that most of the times when they're checking IDs, it's dark, they're using a flashlight or whatever ambient light is spilling out from the bar (not known for being well-lit places, those bars). Also, in most bars, the door staff's sole job isn't checking IDs. They're also doing barback duty, making sure that the bar isn't getting overcrowded, and what else? Oh yeah, keeping fights from breaking out, or stopping them once they've started.

I've got no problem with the law, but I'm troubled about the broadness of the proposal. People make honest mistakes. Now if a doorman is letting the juvies in knowingly, then he should be liable. But, I kind of believe that we should focus on punishing the actual criminals.

I'm saying this. Being a doorman is a tough gig, and good ones are hard to find. In addition, mistakes happen, and fake IDs are getting better and better. Punish the criminals and use some common sense with the folks who are trying to earn a buck.

Also, I'm not sure how it can be enforced effectively, which is a different argument for a different day.

Nicki said...

Publius, the problem with what you say is that if the law is written that way, then it IS unenforceable. 'Cause it's hard to establish intent. You can either use a smoking gun -- like you'd get one -- or establish a multiple-incident pattern. Which the ACCPD aren't likely to have the wherewithal to follow to a conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what's wrong with things the way they are. I mean....if a doorman let's someone in, accidental or otherwise, one of two things would happen.

1) Nothing. No one would get caught and life would go on in the Shire much as it has these past years.

2) Someone would get busted and the establishment would be held responsible. Knowing that there is a doorman who let people there would be a monetary punishment or most likely a dismissal of said doorman.

Besides....I don't see why the doorman should be responsible when...duh...he's not the one with the liquor license!