FOLLY BEACH — Drinking on the beach is not coming back. Possibly ever.
In a surprise twist, City Council opted Tuesday night to endorse an outright ban on alcohol by the surf, rejecting the option to put the issue to an island-wide vote Nov. 6.
The move stunned a crowded council chamber, where many of those in attendance didn't expect that the sought-after public referendum would fall out of contention.
The split was 3-3 when Mayor Tim Goodwin cast the deciding vote.
“I'm ready for it to be over with,” Goodwin said afterward, adding that he foresaw a return to the problems of public drunkenness and rowdy behavior, seen in abundance this year, if the referendum went the other way.
The ordinance needs two more readings to become part of the city code, which is expected. Folly will then join all the other local beach communities in outlawing drinking in public by the water.
Tuesday's meeting was another divisive night. Some of the public speakers who defended beer on the beach said they backed an outside investigation of the Public Safety Department's actions during the July Fourth “riot” that drew thousands and rekindled the ban debate.
Council agreed to at least look into the cost of what such a probe would run, with preliminary forecasts beginning at about $15,000 for what the city attorney called “an event autopsy.”
Some also questioned the department's preparation for the holiday that drew an estimated 40,000 people on the busiest weekend of the year. “It just seems that we didn't have the capability to handle what's going on,” said resident Michael Riffert during the public comment portion.
“On July Fourth, our Public Safety Department was totally understaffed,” added resident Elton Culpepper.
Chief Dennis Brown responded by saying the island needs to address its issues in their entirety.
“It's really easy to blame the blue elephant in the room,” he said. “We need to look at it as a city and not start throwing people under buses.”
Also Tuesday, The Post and Courier obtained a copy of a July e-mail in which Brown said he was going to provide an unmarked cruiser “to the officer who charges the most DUI offenses from now until Sept. 1.”
“We will do this every year for the officer who arrests the most DUIs,” he added. Brown said Tuesday the incentive idea has since been dropped, but that it was a way of motivating officers and giving them a vehicle to work from less obvious than a marked patrol car.
Tuesday's vote came about after supporters of a ban on alcohol on the beach turned over a petition with the names of nearly 500 island residents who want the issue considered in a referendum. State law also gave City Council the option of adopting the ban outright.
While Goodwin supported the ban, it was Councilman Tom Scruggs who pressed the issue, saying Folly has seen tons of less trash, less car traffic and less alcohol abuses since the town's post-July 4 prohibition was put in place.
People in great numbers told him “you have to ban, we've got our beach back,” he said, adding “too many politicians have shirked our duty to make the tough decisions.”
Many of those who spoke Tuesday agreed, saying Folly has got to return to marketing the beach as family friendly.
“Keep Folly fun, not drunk,” said resident Darlene Rawls.
Others spoke for more dialogue and slowing the process down, saying the only problem the ban will solve is traffic “because people will not want to come here,” one man said.
Others said they were outlawing something that helped businesses thrive during 12 to 13 key weekends a year.
After the vote, resident Abbey Travis was elated outside City Hall. “No traffic, no drinking, no fighting,” she said of the beach closest to her house since the interim ban took effect.
Voting with Goodwin and Scruggs for the permanent ban were Councilmen Eddie Ellis and Pennell Clamp. Voting on the opposite side were Dale Stuckey, Paul Hume and Sandra Hickman.
Council also voted to extend the temporary ban on beach drinking — set to expire around Labor Day — through the end of the year.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.