Nightclub ordinance complexity delays enforcement

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Producing a floor plan showing where alcohol is served, applying for an annual permit, attend compliance training, hiring security guards, checking each patron to make sure no weapons enter the premises – area nightclub owners and management have lots to do before Tupelo city government begins enforcing a new ordinance in October.
The City Council passed the ordinance March 5 and intended for it to be enforced 30 days later.
Months later, city officials have found the many aspects of the local law complicated and want to explain it more to the public before enforcing penalties. A related public meeting was held Tuesday, while another is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m.
“We felt like we needed to inform the public of all these changes,” said Marilyn Vail, zoning administrator for the city who will help enforce the ordinance.
The ordinance was passed partly in response to a shooting death at a bar on McCullough Boulevard early on New Year’s Day 2011. City leaders used a similar ordinance in Hattiesburg and other cities outside the state as a guide for cracking down on problem locations.
The ordinance’s intent is to regulate nightclub security, alcohol policies, loitering, littering, noise, overcrowding, parking and other criteria that affect public safety and welfare.
The ordinance broadly defines “nightclub” as businesses with occupancy of 100 or more people that serve alcohol and have “amplified music, dancing, table games or video games.” Businesses with fewer than 100 people meeting this description will be regulated under the ordinance if the police are called more than once during a 30-day period.
However, owners of area restaurants worry the ordinance will have a chilling impact on their attempts to provide quality venues for entertainment in places that haven’t received complaints.
“We understand the genesis of this ordinance and appreciate what our public safety officials are doing to protect our citizens and visitors while keeping Tupelo safe,” said Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. “However, I have heard from numerous restaurant owners and managers that feel this ordinance is too far reaching and will adversely affect restaurant and entertainment venues that have not been a nuisance.”
Penalties for failing to comply with the law include $500 fines and or up to 90 days in jail per violation.
City officials, including Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton, have said enforcement will be “complaint driven.”
Mayor-elect Jason Shelton, who will take office on Monday, said the ordinance appears too broad and will seek to amend it after taking office.
“I don’t like the idea of selective enforcement or complaint-driven enforcement,” Shelton. “The ordinance just has to be done right.”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com