Beer Board settles on compromise

Friday, November 7, 2008
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Councilman Robin Minor, left, listens to Beer Board Chairman John Lambert, right, make a point.

With a suggestion that it's a city election campaign issue next spring, the owners of two restaurants persuaded officials to find a way to change Lewisburg's beer law so they could stay in business without being forced to be open six days a week.

City Attorney Bill Haywood is to draft an amendment to the beer ordinance so that the restaurants can meet certain criteria and be open only twice a week and still sell beer with meals, City Manager Eddie Fuller said. It's a compromise the Beer Board doesn't oppose.

Leonard's Outer Edge and Soul Train had received letters telling them to close by Nov. 1 if they weren't going to obey a city ordinance requiring restaurants that serve beer to be open six days a week and to serve at least two meals each day.

Because change is proposed in the beer law, Fuller has announced a reprieve from strict enforcement of the six-day rule as stated in the letter to the restaurants.

Both restaurants have entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights when they flourish, but hardly anyone shows up other days, so the restaurants stayed closed five days a week, contrary to the ordinance. According to some discussion during the Beer Board meeting on Wednesday, the old law is based on long-forgotten reasons.

"You're stepping over the line if you tell us when we can be open," said Leonard Malone who runs the Outer Edge on Legion Street.

Beer Board Chairman John Lambert and City Councilman Robin Minor, the only two Beer Board members present -- and the two who made a quorum Wednesday, replied in chorus; "We're not saying anything." They said the Board only enforces rules set by the Council. They showed little inclination to take the initiative to make a recommendation to the Council.

"The answer," said Phyllis Conger, co-owner of Soul Train, "is to elect some people to the Council."

Conger's husband, Willie, said, "We need a lawyer," and he mentioned a firm that's advertised on Nashville TV.

Malone said he could have packed City Hall with supporters for a change in the beer ordinance, but instead came with arguments based on consultation with others and a quote from the city attorney as published by the then-Lewisburg Tribune on Dec. 11, 2003.

Haywood had warned of potential problems revealed by the ordinance when Malone and Conger and her husband, Willie, persuaded the Council to let them stay open past midnight if they just stopped selling beer at that time.

Council apparently took Haywood's advice nearly five years ago by not forcing Outer Edge and Soul Train to close at midnight. Now, Malone is using Haywood's quote in the Tribune as a reason to eliminate the requirement that restaurants be open six days a week.

The newspaper quoted Haywood as saying, "'According to my research, the city can control when a business sells alcohol, but that is the length of their authority. The city cannot tell a business when it can close and when it can open.'"

Well aware of Haywood's advice and after hearing various solutions that were met with Minor and Lambert's refusal to make a recommendation, the city manager offered a solution.

Fuller pointed to a section of city code that creates two-day beer permits. Businesses qualifying for such a license are apparently different from Soul Train and Outer Edge in that they don't have beer permits already, but the city manager asked Minor and Lambert if they would oppose an amendment if the ordinance was amended to permit issuance of licenses for two-day operations.

Minor and Lambert said they weren't interested in changing the ordinance, nor would they recommend a change. Ultimately, they said they wouldn't oppose the compromise, but they settled on that position after Lambert said the board could recommend that the Council not change the law at all.

"Is that what you want us to do?" Lambert asked the businessmen and women, relatives and supporters.

Malone noted Minor is a councilman who'd be able to vote on the amendment, but Minor replied he's only one of five voting members of the Council.

"We're going to lobby," Malone replied. "I could have filled this room. I've got a lot of support. If our word doesn't stand for anything, then what good is government?"

Malone complained the Board was "governing with those pieces of paper." Minor and Lambert replied that's what they're supposed to do.

"Lewisburg wants business to do well and pay taxes," Malone said. "We're after change and that's what we need.

"Our standards are so out of date, they're so old, the dinosaurs could have written them," Malone continued.

Blue collar workers should be able to have a place for their meals and entertainment, he said. Lewisburg isn't Gatlinburg, he said.

"I don't know why you guys are so dead-fast against a local business," Malone said.

Also during the meeting, Conger's son, Bill, asked about the ordinance's requirement for restaurants with beer permits t o be ready to serve two meals a day. While Malone saw that as two plates sold each day, Bill Conger asked about businesses being open during two one-hour periods.

No conclusion was reached on either part of that discussion since the compromise seemed to be well-accepted.

"We have a provision where we can do a two-day permit," Fuller said Thursday.

He noted that Minor saw a subsection of the ordinance as opening an avenue for compromise.

If a restaurant was established for a length of time, perhaps four to five years, then its owners might request a permit to reduce the number of days they'd be open to two, Fuller said. The subsection apparently implies that it's referring to businesses without a beer permit.

Fuller was planning to write a proposed ordinance then turn it over to Haywood so the city attorney could finalize the draft. It seemed clear that the prospective change would be presented by the city attorney to the Council.

The Council is set to meet in City Hall at 6 p.m. on Thursday next week, a date that's two days later than the regularly scheduled monthly meeting because of Veterans Day.