“Conduct rewarded is conduct repeated”: City council hears citizen complaints about hookah lounge, consider hotel tax increase

Published 10:18 am Friday, June 21, 2024

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The Bainbridge City Council met for their regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening. Following the invocation, pledge and approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, the council recognized visitors that wished to address the council.

Only one visitor stepped forward to address the council, criticizing the council’s renewing of the alcoholic beverage license of Off the Hookah on behalf of some neighbors of the business. The representative provided photographic and video evidence to the council of the business’s patrons publicly engaging in lewd and indecent behavior on Broad Street around the business, including public intoxication, sexually explicit dancing, and public urination. Complaints have been levied against Off the Hookah and its patrons at previous meetings for such behavior, as well as patrons trespassing on neighboring business’s property.

“The police came for a minute,” he said, “but it’s gotten worse than ever. It really has. You know there’s a saying, ‘Conduct rewarded is conduct repeated.’”

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“When you watch these,” he continued, referring to the videos, “I would ask you to ask yourself a rhetorical question. How would you feel if that happened in front of your business? How would you feel if that happened in front of your house?… A liquor license is a privilege, I know each and every one of y’all know this.” He requested that the alcoholic beverage license be revoked.

Following this, Tori Green took to the podium, criticizing local government’s use of executive sessions. Executive sessions are not open to the public.

“Our city has seen an increasing number of private executive sessions, raising legitimate concerns among our citizens about what is being discussed and decided without public oversight,” Green said. She mentioned the Stand Up Bainbridge citizen’s group, which was formed in opposition to the proposed primate breeding facility, saying, “They are not just a voice of dissent, but a beacon of hope to those who believe in the power of open, honest governance.”

Green went on to read the laws surrounding executive sessions.

After these public addresses had concluded, the first item of business on the agenda was a proposed amendment to the Ordinance 619 lodging tax, which would allow the council to impose a hotel/motel excise tax up to 8%. This would be a 3% increase from the usual excise tax; this additional money from the tax will only be able to be used within the Chason Park redevelopment zone. The council was formally presented with the proposed amendment on Tuesday; they will be able to vote on it at next month’s meeting, on July 16.

Next on the agenda, Steve O’Neal, Director of Community and Economic Development, presented the council with an animal service fee schedule for the Humane Society. The only new fees added to the schedule were an animal relinquishing fee of $25, as well as increases in fees for animal vaccinations, medical administration, and nail trimmings from $5 to $10. The rest remained the same. One resident spoke up against the increase in fees, criticizing the city’s “lack of leadership.” The council ultimately voted to approve the fee schedule.

Following this, the council heard requests for street closures. This consisted of a request from First Baptist Church to close a portion of South Clay Street, from East Shotwell to East Troupe Street for their Vacation Bible School program, from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM, from June 24- June 28. The council voted to approve the request.

Next, alcoholic beverage license applications were considered, one being from a Mr. Patel for A&S Family LLC, and the second being from a John R. Webster from It Is Five O’Clock Somewhere. The council voted to approve both applications.

The council next voted to declare 55 items surplus equipment to be auctioned off.

Lastly, the council went into a public hearing pertaining to the city’s comprehensive plan. The presenter was John Ford of the Robert & Company consulting firm, which had previously handled the city’s improvement plans for Shotwell and Scott Street.

Ford discussed the various parts of a comprehensive plan, including community goals; needs and opportunities; broadband services; land use; community work programs; transportation; housing; and a capital improvements program.

There will be multiple meetings over the comprehensive plan in the coming months, specifically four. These will be open to the public, with the first scheduled for August 29, presumptively at City Hall. The next meeting is scheduled for September 26, and the third for October 24. The fourth meeting will be held on November 21, when the drafted plan will be recommended. The planning commission may then hold a meeting in December or January about this draft. After this, the city is scheduled to hold a public hearing on this either on January 21 or February 18.

Ford made a note of mentioning public involvement, saying, “The public’s not necessarily always right, but it’s always important, and you need to modify any kind of elements of the plan to satisfy the community as a whole, because this is not my plan, it’s your plan.”

For more information on the plan, visit www.bainbridgetomorrow.com.

Following this presentation, the council exited the public hearing, and the meeting was adjourned.