Four Five Points bars will be sanctioned for violating the city’s 2 a.m. bar closing ordinance, but it’s unclear what the penalty will be.
The pending sanctions prompted a Columbia attorney who represents the four bars on Tuesday to ask City Council’s public safety committee to clarify the process for citing owners and notifying them of violations.
One of the bars facing sanctions is Sharky’s, a Five Points night club owned by Scott Linaberry, who helped council draft its bar closing ordinance. The others are Pavlov’s, Thirsty Parrot and Pour House, said attorney Joe McCulloch.
“Some feel the intent of this effort has gone somewhat off the rails, so to speak,” McCulloch said.
The four nightclub owners defended themselves last week in an administrative hearing before city manager Steve Gantt. There was no public notification that the hearing had been scheduled.
Tuesday, neither city officials nor McCulloch would say what violations the four bars had been cited for or what the outcome of the hearing had been. City Attorney Ken Gaines said information about the penalties would not be released until formal letters to each bar had been issued.
City Council approved an ordinance in 2011 that requires bars to close at 2 a.m. unless they agree to certain conditions and obtain a permit. Council can revoke the permit if a bar commits three violations. Citations can be written by the police department, fire department or city codes inspectors.
In his presentation to the public safety committee, McCulloch used one example in which a bar patron was cited for underage drinking after Columbia police caught the person with a fake ID. However, no one told the bar owner about the arrest or that it counted as a strike against his permit.
“With the three-strike rule in baseball, you announce the first strike so the batter knows he has two strikes left,” McCulloch said. “In the enforcement of this ordinance, the bars are not told they have any strikes.”
The ordinance says a bar owner can be cited for knowingly violating the law, but McCulloch said there had been no analysis or investigation into whether the bar owner knew the ID was fake.
Moe Baddourah, the public safety committee chairman, said council would consider changes, but members at the meeting were reluctant to agree that there were flaws. They also disagreed with allegations that the police were singling out Five Points bar owners.
Councilmen Sam Davis and Brian Newman said they have received complaints from bar owners in other parts of town.
“We’re trying to strike that balance of allowing people to conduct these businesses in the city without having all of the public safety issues,” Newman said. “We have more underage drinking issues in Five Points. That’s the fact of the matter.
“At its core, I don’t think our ordinance is seriously flawed.”